Across the high seas and beyond

Posted on: Thursday, 26 March 2015

by Dr Anne Marie Laslett

The Centre for Alcohol Policy Research (CAPR) hosted the World Health Organization, ThaiHealth, National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Melbourne Meeting of Principal Investigators on the Alcohol’s Harm to Others Project between March 19-21 at Turning Point.

Attended by researchers from Chile, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos People's Democratic Republic (PDR), New Zealand and Australia, (with the Indian and Nigerian researchers skyped in) the meeting was an insightful and wonderful opportunity to draw together and compare early survey results and response system information from key informants gathered during a scoping study. The surveys and scoping studies primarily focused on the extent and impact of alcohol’s harm to others.

Although findings are not ready to be released just yet, comparing the different country statistics, methods of the surveys and experiences of alcohol-related harm is fascinating. India has a population of 1.2 billion, Nigeria has 152 million and for the same year Australia had 21 million and New Zealand 4 million people. According to the WHO, only 10% of the population in Sri Lanka are current drinkers, whereas 73 per cent of Chileans and 80% of Australians are.

The methods in surveys differed by necessity too: in Thailand face-to-face interviews by researchers were delayed by floods and then conducted in village temples. In Nigeria interviewers were required to pay guide fees to village heads and to a motorcyclist to avoid a “masquerade attack” as well as cover unexpected large costs to hire a boat to cross the high seas. In stark contrast Australian and New Zealand surveys are conducted by phone from survey research call centres.

Despite such obstacles in lower income countries they achieved response rates of 90% or more, which is very uncommon in Australia.  This is partly because surveys in these countries are novel, for instance the survey in Laos PDR will provide the first national estimates of alcohol consumption patterns ever.

In the scoping component of the research key informants were selected for interviews in health, police and justice, family and child and other sectors from most of the countries. Included were boys’ homes in India, community mediation centres in Sri Lanka, Catholic alcohol and other drug treatment centres in Chile and women’s crisis services in Thailand.

In some of these countries child protection services do not exist and non-government organisations in civil society conduct large amounts of their work funded by aid. The varying capacity these countries have to respond to the harm to others’ from drinking is patent in these interviews.

In sum, the group pushed forward collation of national reports, publication of multiple cross-national papers and a book involving chapters from nine countries in the project. The meeting enabled stimulating cross-national interchange of ideas, was highly productive and will inform alcohol policy development globally.

This significant body of work is based on nearly nine years of research on alcohol’s harm to others started in 2007 in Australia, and expanded since this time to other countries. The research has been supported by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), and more recently ThaiHealth, the World Health Organization and the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Dr Anne Marie Laslett is a research fellow at the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, Turning Point and is the director of the Alcohol’s Harm to Others study in Australia.