7th Global Alcohol Policy Conference in South Africa Calls for Global Alcohol Policy Reforms

South Africa is set to host the 7th Global Alcohol Policy Conference, known as GAPC2023, in Cape Town from October 24 to 26. The primary focus of this conference is to shed light on action need to move alcohol policy agendas forward both at global and national levels.

South Africa has faced challenges in reducing problematic drinking, especially heavy drinking, a problem that became more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. One notable incident, the Enyobeni Tavern tragedy in July 2021 where 21 teenagers died, in particular, highlighted the issue of underage drinking, with many taverns operating without adhering to their alcohol license regulations and liquor authorities adequately investigating applications prior to issuing licenses or monitoring compliance.

The country has also grappled with a litigious liquor sector dominated by big alcohol companies. Despite the pandemic, South Africa has struggled to establish a new normal post the Covid-19 pandemic due to several factors. First, it has failed to address the root causes of problematic drinking, such as the availability of cheap alcohol and weak regulations, including inadequate controls on alcohol marketing and poor controls on liquor sales. Second, key alcohol legislation has been stalled across various government departments and with the dissolution of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Substance Abuse the country has moved backwards in terms of dealing with the fragmentation that exists in policy responses to alcohol across different sectors of government. Third, industry interference in policy-making has been a pervasive issue, delaying or weaking effective policy reform.

These challenges are not unique to South Africa, with similar inadequate progress reported during the recent Global Alcohol Action Plan (GAAP) session at the 73rd WHO Regional Committee for Africa meeting held in Botswana. The evidence supporting effective measures to combat alcohol-related harm is robust, even though research funding often favours high-income countries. However, initiatives like the WHO SAFER initiative and GAAP (2022-2030) provide clear guidelines for actions at both the national and international levels.

It would be encouraging if South Africa, the host country would not only use the platform of GAPC2023 to show a renewed commitment to moving forward with the stalled Department of Trade Industry & Competitions 2017 Liquor amendment Bill, but would even go further to show a commitment to supporting both regional and global efforts to take the alcohol control agenda forward.

The central questions are whether action by national governments, even if comprehensive and following evidence-based strategies, will be enough to significantly reduce alcohol harms and ensure attainment of the goal of GAAP. The second question is whether global initiatives such as have been instituted for tobacco or drugs (namely the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control or the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances 1971) or some similar mechanism are needed for alcohol and, if so, how to bring such a globally binding treaty into being.  In particular, such a mechanism could be useful in controlling difficult issues like cross-border digital marketing and addressing industry interference in policy making.

GAPC2023 is expected to bring together nearly 500 delegates from various sectors, including academics, policymakers, community-based organisations, international NGOs, cancer societies, and the WHO, over a three-day period. Keynote and other speakers from around the world will address a range of topics linked to the plenary sessions. Plenary sessions at the conference will delve into GBV, cancer, role of regulators, alcohol pricing policies, digital marketing regulation, disrupting the influence of big alcohol, and new initiatives for impactful policies and reduced industry influence.

The conference also includes 29 concurrent sessions, with topics such as alcohol labelling, indigenous peoples and alcohol policy, advocacy and effective policies, developing a global action plan, women and children’s rights and alcohol, harms to women and children from men’s drinking, physical availability policies, alcohol and COVID-19, and policy implementation and enforcement.

The expected outcomes of the conference encompass enhancing the field of prevention and response to harmful drinking, strengthening research skills and knowledge in the African region, disseminating new knowledge for future research and policy-making, identifying research priorities, building momentum toward a Framework Convention on Alcohol Control, increasing media attention on alcohol-related harm, and garnering support for the WHO Global Alcohol Action Plan (2022-2030).

The conference is co-hosted by the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA), the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAAPA), and the Department of Social Development (DSD). It is co-sponsored by various organisations, including the DG Murray Trust, Open Philanthropy, the SA Convention Bureau, the National Department of Health, the National Research Foundation (NRF), Forut Norway, and the World Health Organization.

What is GAPA and GAPC?

GAPA, the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance, is a network of non-governmental organisations, public health agencies, researchers, and institutions dedicated to sharing information on alcohol-related issues and advocating for evidence-based alcohol policies free from commercial interests. Regional and national alliances affiliated with GAPA operate in various regions, including Africa, the European Union, the Caribbean, South-East Asia, the USA, and the Western Pacific. GAPA's bi-annual conferences serve as key gatherings for government representatives, academics, NGOs, and the WHO to exchange knowledge and experiences related to alcohol and its harmful effects. These conferences have been held in the USA, Thailand, South Korea, Scotland, Australia, and Ireland in the past.


Professor Charles Parry
Chairperson of the #GAPC2023 Local Organising Committee
Director: Mental Health, Alcohol, Substance Use and Tobacco Research Unit (MASTRU), South African Medical Research Council
Ms Aadielah Maker Diedericks
#GAPC2023 Local Organising Committee Member   
Secretary General for the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAAPA)

Mr Julian Jacobs
#GAPC2023 Local Organising Committee Member (Communications Portfolio)
PhD Scholar, Rhodes University

Bursary expectations

Please take note of the following expectations for bursary winners.

  • Bursary recipients must have valid travel documents and are responsible for obtaining appropriate travel approvals to attend the conference.
  • A full bursary will cover economy flights to and from Cape Town (arranged by the GAPC2023 Organisers), airport transfers in Cape Town, accommodation, and conference fees. It does not cover home-country transport, visa costs or a per diem.
  • Partial bursaries can include registration only; accommodation and flights only; flights only or accommodation only.
  • Bursary recipients may be held liable for any/all expense incurred if the awardee does not attend the conference. Note that Cancellations must be communicated in writing 1 month before the event to avoid liability costs.
  • Priority will be given to applicants from low- and middle-income countries who will not be able to otherwise attend the conference.

During the GAPC 2023 Conference:

  • Bursary recipients will be required to act as GAPC 2023 Ambassadors through live tweeting of sessions, and sharing posts and photos on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. A social media plan will be shared with you prior to the event.
  • Bursary recipients will be asked to provide a blog post of their learning and experience at the GAPC 2023They will be required to complete a short evaluation form after the conference