WHO report recommends educational campaigns, not an alcohol ban for women of childbearing age

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A post shared on Twitter in South Africa claims that the World Health Organization (WHO) has proposed an alcohol ban for women of childbearing age in a new report. But AFP Fact Check found the claim to be misleading. The WHO  said the wording had been misinterpreted, adding that the report was still in the first draft phase and would be further revised.

The post has been retweeted more than 1,200 times since it was published on Twitter on June 17, 2021.

The claim was picked up published by several major media organisations including South Africa’s TimesLive, which reported that the WHO report recommended that “women of child-bearing age should be banned from drinking alcohol”. 

Britain’s talkRADIO also published a post making the same claim on its Facebook account.

But AFP Fact Check has found the claim to be a misleading interpretation of a WHO draft report released on June 15, 2021.

The “Global alcohol action plan 2022-2030” aims to promote ways of reducing the harmful use of alcohol and details the health impact of certain levels of alcohol consumption on populations across the world, including women of childbearing age.

Tweet misrepresents WHO report

While the report says that “appropriate attention should be given to (…) prevention of drinking among pregnant women and women of childbearing age”, it does not call for a specific ban on alcohol. Rather, the draft report suggests developing annual global awareness-raising campaigns to teach people about the potentially harmful impacts of alcohol.

The WHO defines the reproductive age in women as ranging from 15 to 49 years old.

However, it does not suggest prohibition, as the tweet claims.

The WHO said the report has been misinterpreted.

“The report doesn’t recommend abstinence for all women who are of an age at which they could become pregnant,” it told AFP Fact Check in a statement. 

The agency added that the report was a first draft and would be revised at a later stage after further consultations with experts and different stakeholders.

“In the second draft, the section which has been reported on in the media since the publication of the first draft will be clarified to ensure that what is meant is clear,” the WHO said.

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns that excessive alcohol use can harm a person’s health. This includes binge drinking (for women, more than four drinks, and five for men), heavy drinking, underage drinking, and any alcohol consumption by pregnant women.