This commentary explores how household economic necessity and the public health aspirations set out in the WHO's global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol might be reconciled in the context of alcohol control in developing countries. The 'ambiguity' of alcohol’s role in social and economic development is clear, but, as yet, little progress has been made on how best to integrate alcohol control within development policies in low- and middle-income countries. Without this holistic thinking, alcohol control efforts are likely to be thwarted by liquor’s allure as an accessible micro-enterprise opportunity. Similarly, developmental efforts will be undermined by the severity of alcohol-related harms that now disproportionately affect middle-income countries. Drawing on the example of South Africa, this short commentary explores the complexities of controlling the supply of alcohol when its sale represents a major livelihood strategy amid conditions of high unemployment and constrained access to formal employment markets. The policy preference for closing illegal bars or shebeens in South Africa does not address the 'causes of the causes' of why people drink, and therefore why its sale continues to be an attractive livelihood choice. It also does little to provide alternative leisure or employment opportunities, which ultimately threatens the longer term sustainability of policy. We need to better appreciate why selling alcohol is a seductive business opportunity and the potential consequences of this for realising public health aspirations.
Herrick, C. Alcohol control and urban livelihoods in developing countries: can public health aspirations and development goals be reconciled? Critical Public Health (2013) : 1-11. [DOI: 10.1080/09581596.2013.827327]