Hon Foday Sawi Lahai and Ibrahim Kamara
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Boi-Jeneh Jalloh, Executive Director of FORUT Sierra Leone, gave an overview of existing policies and legislation relating to alcohol in Sierra Leone.

New national alcohol policy alliance established in Sierra Leone

Last Wednesday the Sierra Leone Alcohol Policy Alliance was launched at a big national conference in the capital Freetown. The new alliance will now push for a national alcohol policy. Only a few days earlier a similar alliance for Sri Lanka was launched, also with the acronym SLAPA; Sri Lanka Alcohol Policy Alliance. 

On the 28th of October more than 120 participants were gathered at a national conference in Freetown in Sierra Leone for a discussion on how alcohol-related harm can be reduced as part of national development efforts. The intention of the organizers, the new Sierra Leone Alcohol Policy Alliance (SLAPA) and its lead agency FORUT, was to invite civil society and government institutions to a broad and inclusive policy process to develop a National Alcohol Policy Alliance.

The picture above shows the Deputy Minister for Health and Sanitation, Hon. Foday Sawi Lahai (left) and the new SLAPA chair, Ibrahim B. Kamara at the launch conference. They are also seen sitting in the middle of the picture below, together with other guests of honour at the head table.

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This policy initiative got a strong push already at the opening of the conference. Five government ministries and the WHO country office welcomed the initiative, stressed the need for more concerted action on alcohol-related harm and also promised their support in due course. 

Ministry representatives included Health and Sanitation, Education, Social Welfare, among others. They all gave examples of how alcohol is an obstacle to development in their respective areas and how the consequences of harmful drinking are felt by ordinary people of Sierra Leone; alcohol sachets used by children in school, early pregnancies and HIV infections, gender-based violence, rape and homicides, traffic injuries and fatalities etc.

Anders Nordström 800p.jpgThe WHO country representative, Dr. Anders Nordström (picture right), summarized in his speech experiences from the battle against ebola and concluded: “We won the fight against ebola, not because of the efforts of the doctors which were obviously important. The battle was won by the people of Sierra Leone. The strategy to involve the communities and to reach out to people on values, culture, behaviour and traditional habits made the real difference”. He then drew parallels to the topic of the conference and said that we have the same challenge in preventing alcohol-related harm as this is also about changing beliefs, notions and traditions.  

The discussion at the conference focused on how different actors can contribute to the development of a national alcohol policy, not the least how the issue of alcohol prevention can be raised with the many local communities around the country.

An important part of the conference was the launch of the Sierra Leone Alcohol Policy Alliance. This was formally done by the chairperson Ibrahim B. Kamara who used the opportunity also to present the 18 NGOs which are member of the Alliance from the start. He also introduced the first activities to be conducted by the new alliance. Priority number one is to initiate a development process for a new national alcohol policy involving a broad range of NGOs and government institutions.

Nelson Zakeyu 800p.jpgThe policy conference was preceded by a two-day training session for more than 30 participants from the SLAPA member organisations. Here Nelson Zakeyu (picture left) from Drug Fight Malawi and Dag Endal from FORUT Norway shared experiences and documentation from the international field. Malawi and other FORUT partner countries have already been through similar alcohol policy development processes and also the formation of national policy alliances.