Equity impact of minimum unit pricing of alcohol on household health and finances among rich and poor drinkers in South Africa

Naomi Gibbs, Colin Angus, Simon Dixon, D H Charles, Petra S Meier, Micheal Kofi Boachie, Stéphane Verguet

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INTRODUCTION: South Africa experiences significant levels of alcohol-related harm. Recent research suggests minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol would be an effective policy, but high levels of income inequality raise concerns about equity impacts. This paper quantifies the equity impact of MUP on household health and finances in rich and poor drinkers in South Africa.

METHODS: We draw from extended cost-effectiveness analysis (ECEA) methods and an epidemiological policy appraisal model of MUP for South Africa to simulate the equity impact of a ZAR 10 MUP over a 20-year time horizon. We estimate the impact across wealth quintiles on: (i) alcohol consumption and expenditures; (ii) mortality; (iii) government healthcare cost savings; (iv) reductions in cases of catastrophic health expenditures (CHE) and household savings linked to reduced health-related workplace absence.

RESULTS: We estimate MUP would reduce consumption more among the poorest than the richest drinkers. Expenditure would increase by ZAR 353 000 million (1 US$=13.2 ZAR), the poorest contributing 13% and the richest 28% of the increase, although this remains regressive compared with mean income. Of the 22 600 deaths averted, 56% accrue to the bottom two quintiles; government healthcare cost savings would be substantial (ZAR 3.9 billion). Cases of CHE averted would be 564 700, 46% among the poorest two quintiles. Indirect cost savings amount to ZAR 51.1 billion.

CONCLUSIONS: A MUP policy in South Africa has the potential to reduce harm and health inequality. Fiscal policies for population health require structured policy appraisal, accounting for the totality of effects using mathematical models in association with ECEA methodology.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalBMJ Global health
Issue number1
Early online date6 Jan 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Jan 2022

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