WHO Western Pacific Regional meeting in HK to address harmful use of alcohol by young people
12 November 2013
Representatives from countries/areas in the Western Pacific Region of the World Health Organization (WHO) are taking part in a three-day meeting in Hong Kong starting today (November 12) to address the harmful use of alcohol by young people.
The event, titled "World Health Organization Western Pacific Regional Meeting on Addressing the Harmful Use of Alcohol by Young People ", was jointly organised by the Western Pacific Regional Office (WPRO) of the WHO and the Department of Health (DH). A total of 33 delegates from 17 countries/areas in the Western Pacific Region, together with 10 advisers and a number of local observers are attending the meeting. The event serves as a follow-up to the meeting on "Non-communicable Diseases Prevention and Control through the Reduction of Alcohol-related Harm" held in Hong Kong last year.
In his opening remarks, the Director of Programme Management of the WPRO, Dr Han Tieru, highlighted the negative impact of alcohol on the youth population and underlined the importance of concerted efforts in deterring young people from the harmful use of alcohol.
"Repeated use of alcohol has a long-term negative effect on memory and learning. Secondly, alcohol is a strong agent of disinhibition, which in young people leads to high-risk behaviour. Thirdly, it is clear from research that the strongest predictor of alcohol dependence in adulthood is heavy drinking during adolescence," Dr Han said.
In view of the potential risks and problems with youth drinking in the Western Pacific Region, he called on member states to take key actions, such as increasing taxation and limiting alcohol marketing and access to alcohol through age restrictions, with the aim of reducing drinking and its negative consequences among young people and the general population.
Addressing the audience at the welcome ceremony, the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, said that Hong Kong also faced similar threats of harmful alcohol use and binge drinking among young people.
The 2005 Child Health Survey commissioned by the DH showed that 5 per cent of children aged 11-14 had used alcohol and 0.3 per cent of them were current binge drinkers. Moreover, more than one-third those who had used alcohol among this group had their first drink before the age of 11.
To cope with the challenge, Dr Ko said, "Reducing alcohol-related harm has been identified as an important public health priority in Hong Kong. For this reason, under the Steering Committee on Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases which I chair, a Working Group on Alcohol and Health was set up in 2009 to review scientific evidence, assess local circumstances and make recommendations on effective strategies and measures to reduce alcohol-related harm."
The Working Group published the Action Plan to Reduce Alcohol-related Harm in Hong Kong in October 2011, which detailed 17 actions requiring co-ordinated efforts by Government and non-governmental organisations. The actions, including those which specifically target young people, are being carried out progressively.
In the course of the meeting, participants will review current national and regional situations regarding harmful alcohol use among young people, share evidence-based interventions and good practices, identify country-specific and region-wide critical challenges and prioritise actions, as well as developing collaborative strategic approaches to address the growing problem of alcohol use among young people.
Dr Ko was confident that the meeting would stimulate discussions and foster partnerships for the effective control of alcohol problems affecting young people and the wider community.