Another international agency has formally documented its concerns about the UN’s data collection methods around international levels of drug use. In my article about Count The Costs’ Alternative World Drug Report, I mentioned that the UN’s report about drug use across the globe had been criticised for relying on government self-reporting – leaving opportunities for those in power to be less transparent than we might hope. Opaque, in fact.
This time, Harm Reduction International has released a formal challenge to the UN figures. This worldwide organisation claims that the data collected by the UN is incomparable to the 2008 data due to the difference in the methods of data collection, and that, again, government self-reporting is unreliable and unscientific. Given that over a third of the data set collected were done so by annual review questionnaires – completed by governments without any traceable references to how data was collected – analysis of the results is impossible given the lack of openness about how the figures were compiled.
Worryingly, it seems that some countries may be under-reporting their levels of drug use and HIV infection. Russia, for example, have reported that HIV rates amongst their injecting drug using population have almost halved in the last three years. Even considering why a country would want to do this feels quite sinister – but the potential impact on service provision for the drug users with the highest health needs within these countries is frightening.
Harm Reduction International have taken the decision to ignore the UN’s most recent global data, and instead continue to refer to the 2008 figures, where data collection methods were less subjective. They acknowledge that this data is out-dated but, until peer review of the data is possible, they feel the new data may misrepresent the actual international situation. They do, however, recommend that the data is considered on a country-to-country basis, as some countries have provided apparently sound figures.
I suppose this raises questions for me about the integrity of the United Nations and the standards of their publications, and the lack of power they apparently now have in extracting reliable data from politicians. This means that, instead of international agencies working together to tackle the global problems the drug trade produces, there are rifts between them – and confidence in the organisation central to finding some conclusions and solutions is weakened.
On a different note, I do also want to apologise here for my lack of consistency with my blogs recently, which I have otherwise been writing faithfully every week for the last year. I am pleased to say it is because I have some exciting new ventures afoot, which have been sapping me of my time and energy – but I am fully back on board now, pen poised, and will be bothering you with new posts yet again.