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WHO Says Alcohol Abuse a Leading Cause of Death, Disability

A Russian man drinking near a liquor seller in Moscow last year
A Russian man drinking near a liquor seller in Moscow last year

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This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

The World Health Organization says alcohol abuse is the third leading cause of death and disability in the world. A new WHO report says the harmful use of alcohol kills two and one-half million people a year. And officials say action is needed to reduce the problem.

The WHO released the “Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2011” last week. The report shows young people at risk. It says three hundred twenty thousand people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-nine die yearly from alcohol-related causes. That is nine percent of all deaths in that age group.

Shekhar Saxena is director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the World Health Organization. He says alcohol is responsible for one-third of the deaths among young people in some parts of the world.

SHEHAR SAXENA: “Consumption and harmful effects of alcohol are increasing in developing countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, which have less powerful regulations and which have less health services available.”

The World Health Organization report finds that six percent of all male deaths worldwide are related to alcohol. This is true in only one percent of female deaths. The report says one in five men die from alcohol-related causes in the Russian Federation and neighboring countries.

There are four main causes of alcohol-related death. Injury from car accidents or violence is one. Diseases like cirrhosis of the liver, cancer, heart and blood system diseases are the others. The WHO report says alcohol abuse also adds to the development of two hundred other diseases.

However, the majority of people in the world are not alcohol drinkers. The report says in two thousand five, almost half of men and two-thirds of women did not drink alcohol at all.

Dr. Saxena says people who are dependent on alcohol live ten years less on average than those who do not have the problem.

SHEHAR SAXENA: “I think a large proportion of what we are talking about in the two point five million deaths are in the age groups of people who should not die at that age. So, these are premature deaths. The majority of deaths is below the age of sixty, actually.”

The WHO has a plan to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. It includes raising taxes on alcohol, reducing the number of places to buy alcohol and raising the drinking age. Officials say other measures include effective drunk driving laws and banning some alcohol advertising.

And that’s the VOA Special English Health Report written by Caty Weaver, with reporting by Lisa Schlein. What are the drinking laws and traditions where you live? You can answer on our website, I’m Bob Doughty.