The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has launched ‘Pahola,’ the world’s first digital health worker specialising in alcohol and health.
According to PAHO, Pahola will help countries in the region reduce increasing rates of harmful drinking.
“Alcohol is the leading risk factor for premature mortality and disability among people aged between 15 and 49 years,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), said in a video message to Friday’s webinar launch of the initiative.
He said that any and every tool that can help people reduce their risk and lead a healthier life is welcome.
“New technologies, including artificial intelligence, are powerful tools for expanding access to information and care, and we hope Pahola will be very successful in the Americas and around the world,” the WHO Director stated.
According to the organisation, Pahola’s design makes it empathetic and free of judgement.
The WHO said Pahola could give general information about the risks of drinking in an interactive and confidential format and assess alcohol-related risks.
And if people then decide to cut down on drinking, Pahola can help them create a plan that includes identifying triggers and figuring out how to cope.
The initiative, available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, can also refer people to alcohol treatment services.
However, PAHO Assistant Director Dr. Jarbas Barbosa explained that the intention of Pahola is not to replace direct contact with health professionals but to encourage people to seek help.
Alcohol consumption takes a heavy toll in the Americas, leading to about 379,000 deaths annually from related diseases, injuries, intoxication, and poisoning.
Regular alcohol consumption also increases the risk for liver cirrhosis and some significant forms of cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
Between 8% and 10% of the over-18 population in the Americas has an alcohol use disorder (AUD), defined as the harmful use of alcohol or alcohol dependence.
But about 80% of people who need treatment for AUD do not get it because of poor or unavailable services, a situation made worse by the current COVID-19 pandemic.