Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Alcohol Treatment Access and Harm Prevention in West Africa: Reports from NGOs and Community-Based Organizations

Monica H. Swahn, Kennesaw State University
Adelaide Balenger, Georgia State University
Franklin Umenze, Preston Hospital Lekki
Ritu Aneja, Georgia State University


Background: Recent research highlights how the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted alcohol consumption patterns, yet research thus far has largely overlooked the experience in West Africa. Research also has not addressed how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected access to alcohol treatment, support, and alcohol harm prevention. This study addresses this research gap in West Africa, a low-resource setting with a very high burden of alcohol harm. Objectives: To understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on alcohol use, access to alcohol, treatment access, and alcohol harm prevention activities in West Africa. Methods: This study analyzed data from a cross-sectional online survey conducted in August and September of 2020 and distributed by the West Africa Alcohol Policy Alliance to their member alliances and stakeholders across nine countries (N = 140 participants) to understand their perceptions on COVID-19 and alcohol-related topics. Results: Our findings convey a significant adverse impact on alcohol-focused NGOs and community-based organizations in West Africa. Overall, 94% of participants indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic adversely impacted their organizations’ work. In addition, 71% of participants reported reduced access to alcohol treatment or support in their communities. Lastly, 44% of the respondents indicated that people in their community drank less alcohol than usual, and only 33% answered that they perceived it to be harder to get alcohol. Conclusions: These data underscore the significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across West Africa with respect to accessing alcohol treatment and organizational capacity to address alcohol harm. With the lack of infrastructure to address alcohol harm, this impact could exacerbate the high level of alcohol use and harm in the region.