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The Zambia National Alcohol Policy

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By Dr Chanda Michael Mulimansenga

Dr Mulimansenga Chanda, chairperson of the Zambia Breweries Sales and Marketing Compliance Committee (SMCC).

In May, the Zambian Cabinet approved the draft National Alcohol Policy (NAP) which has been in final draft form for the past four years. But what is it, and who is it aimed at? With support from the Zambian Breweries, I’d like to address these questions. Alcohol has always been part of society. Wine features in the miracles of the Lord Jesus Christ and plays a prominent part in the story of Noah’s Ark and the prevention of extinction of humanity.
In many Zambian cultures, alcohol has a place in rituals including birth, marriage and death rites. When priests communicate with ancestral spirits, they often quench the spirit’s thirst with a traditionally-brewed beer. It is believed that most traditional leaders take alcohol to remove their natural shyness and fear of adjudicating in complicated and heavy cases.
On the social front, alcohol in moderation is a catalyst of good human relations, in that it breaks social barriers.

In a new study led by University of Pittsburgh researchers reveals moderate alcohol intake enhances positive emotions and social bonding and relieves negative emotions. Other research [“Alcohol and Group Formation: A Multimodal Investigation of the Effects of Alcohol on Emotion and Social Bonding,”] shows moderate doses have a powerful effect on social drinkers in a group. Undesirable effects of alcohol to society.

Alcohol misuse is harmful. International research suggests that alcohol abuse brings a high cost to society, in the form of social and health consequences. It’s often associated with considerable harm to the individual drinker, to his/her immediate family and environment, and to the broader community.

Zambian Breweries, championing responsible attitudes to alcohol

It is strongly associated with unsafe sex and the spread of HIV/AIDS; loss of life or impairment due to accidents and chronic disease such as liver disease. In fact, alcohol abuse has been identified as one of the four leading drivers behind the spread of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) globally.

Alcohol misuse has been seen to trigger gender-based violence; and breaking down family harmony, violating children’s rights to grow up in safe and alcohol-free environments.
It fuels violence and crime and increases poverty in households that are already vulnerable.
Zambia needs to actively contribute to international NCD processes by ensuring that an enabling policy and legal environment is in place to deal with this aspect of alcohol-related harm.

What is the National Alcohol Policy? 
The NAP is a public health policy developed to provide a framework for the government and other key stakeholders (public and private, institutions and individuals) on how they can develop targeted action plans aimed at preventing and managing alcohol related harm. The Policy recognises the role alcohol plays in Zambia, both in terms of its social and economic contribution. It also recognises the consequences in terms of its significant capacity, when misused, to impose unacceptable costs on individuals and the community.

The NAP is not an Act of Parliament. It is not a law. It does not impose sanctions. However, this particular policy, like most public policies in Zambia, does have a section that highlights the legal and regulatory framework. This section itemises all statutes and pre-existing policies which can be invoked as necessary. A good example is the Liquor Licensing Act of 2011.
The vision of the NAP is a nation free from negative social, health, and welfare consequences of alcohol use, to enhance national development.

The problems cited above that arise from alcohol misuse cause social, economic and public health problems in the country, a drain on our country’s meager financial resources.  Currently, there is no national policy to provide guidance on the production, distribution, retail and consumption of alcohol. If this were left unchecked, it could lead to a further increase in the negative consequences of alcohol misuse.

There are six fundamental principles that underpin the NAP. 
1.    Promotion and protection of human rights: An effective response to alcohol-related issues requires Zambian rights to equality before the law and freedom from discrimination are respected, protected and fulfilled.

a.    The right of all Zambians, to be informed of and protected from alcohol related harm;
b.    The right of all children under the age of eighteen to be protected against alcohol related harm;
c.    The right not to drink for those who choose not to;
d.    The right of Zambians above the age of eighteen, who choose to do so, to purchase and consume alcohol in accordance with laws and regulations; and
e.    The right of alcohol dealers to conduct legitimate and legal business in a responsible way in keeping with the current laws and regulations, and the duty to actively support the enforcement of said laws and regulations.

2.    Political leadership and commitment: Strong political leadership and commitment at all levels is essential for sustained effective and proper reduction of alcohol related harm.

3.    Multi-sectoral approach and partnership: All sectors of society must be actively involved in the design, implementation, review, monitoring and evaluation of the National Alcohol Policy for it to be effective.

4.    Public Health Approach: A public health approach is the most effective way to reduce alcohol-related harm by focusing on the most effective promotion, preventive, curative and rehabilitation information and interventions.

5.    Scientific and evidence-based research: It is essential that the national response to alcohol problems and interventions be based on sound, current and future, empirically-based research.

6.    Sustainability: The interventions embarked on should be sustainable considering the economic situation of the nation. The government shall remain open to new initiatives that are effective and sustainable.

Who is the target audience? 
The NAP has multiple target audiences. As well as alcohol consumers, some targeted audiences include GRZ line ministries, civil society, and the brewery industry (brewers, distributers, and retailers). Traditional and religious leaders and law enforcement agencies are also included.

I remain optimistic that through the Ministry of Health (MOH) in collaboration with other key stakeholders, the policy will be launched and disseminated widely so stakeholders are given the opportunity to acquaint themselves with the policy.

Acknowledgement: This article has borrowed very heavily from the National Alcohol Policy for Zambia. Special thanks to Zambia Breweries for the sponsorship of this article.