WHO will not engage with the alcohol industry when developing alcohol policy or implementing public health measures

17 Apr 2019 - 08:45

Significantly, the World Health Organisation has recently issued an internal instruction to staff to warn them against entering into any partnership, collaboration or formal joint relationship with the Alcohol Industry, the reason being that such engagements would put at risk the integrity, credibility, and independence of WHO’s work. Conflict of Interest has been hugely controversial in the public health field, with industries whose products are responsible for the massive epidemic of Non-Communicable diseases in the world seeking to influence national and global public health agendas to protect their profits.  

While engagement with Big Tobacco is prevented under the UN Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, other corporate non-state actors have been allowed to cosy up to WHO in multiple ways (Buse K, Hawkes S. Sitting on the FENSA: WHO engagement with industry. Lancet. 2016 Jul 30;388(10043):446-7), and this is encouraged by SDG 17.

The fact that the WHO has now recognised the potential risks of engagement with the alcohol industry as a conflict of interest and advised governments against improper influence on their public health policies and programmes, is a bold step forward. It opens the way to rethinking the drift towards handing  the steering wheel to corporates and other non-state actors in matters of public health interest. Read the statement by the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance welcoming the WHO position and calling on governments to adopt the WHO’s position in keeping the powerful alcohol industry at arm’s length when it comes to health policy.