WHO Data on High Iranian Alcohol Consumption Disputed by Health Expert

By Azadeh Karimi

The director of the Iranian National Canter for Addiction Studies (INCAS), Doctor Afarin Rahimi-Movaghar, has disputed the findings of the World Health Organization (WHO), which listed Iran among the top 10 countries with the highest volume of “Current Drinkers” (i.e., liters of pure alcohol per person 15 years and older per year).

Several Iranian newspapers and media outlets have published the data, which was first reported by Euronews.com on October 3, citing the WHO’s “Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health” released in September 2018.

According to the WHO’s report, in 2016, alcohol consumption per capita (APC) for “Current Drinkers” in Iran was 28.4 liters.

Separately, in September 2018, the Iranian media reported on 300 cases of alcohol poisoning in the provinces of Hormozgan, North Khorasan, Alborz, and Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad caused by home-distilled spirits containing lethal amounts of methanol alcohol. Of that number, 16 people permanently lost their sight, 42 either died or were pronounced brain-dead at the hospital, and another 170 were placed on dialysis machines.

“Iranians consume less alcohol than any other nation,” Dr. Rahimi-Movaghar was quoted by the semi-official Fars news agency on October 8 of saying. “Women, who comprise half of the population, drink one-tenth of the amount of alcohol consumed by men.”

Rahimi-Movaghar, a professor at the Tehran University of the Medical Sciences School of Psychiatry, explained: “The report listing Iran ninth among the countries with the highest volume of alcohol consumption is incorrect. Our research has shown that Iranians consume between 5 to 6 million liters of alcohol a year. That is 0.01 liters of pure alcohol for every adult. The average APC [15+ years and older for both sexes] for the entire world is 6.4 liters. Data shows that Iran has one of the lowest levels of alcohol consumption in the world.”

“Our studies have also shown that between 90 to 95 percent of the adult population (15 and older) of the country do not consume alcohol,” Rahimi-Movaghar noted. “On average, men and women drink, respectively, 1.5 liters and 400 cubic centimeters (CC) of pure alcohol a year which is one-twentieth of the figure given in the WTO report.”

Rahimi-Movaghar pointed out: “Sometimes data compiled in a country does not reach an international organization in time for publication which could explain the discrepancy in the [WTO’s] report on Iran. When an organization does not have enough data on a subject, it constructs a model using information about health and behavioral patterns from neighboring countries, which could lead to wrong conclusions.”

Rahimi-Movaghar, however, warned: “Our research has shown that alcohol consumption has risen in the country in recent years, particularly among young people. We must develop robust preventive and treatment plans and also raise public awareness about health hazards associated with drinking alcohol.”

“We must educate young people about the serious health problems caused by alcohol abuse including addiction, liver failure, heart disease, damage to the central nervous system and methanol poisoning [permanent blindness],” Rahimi-Movaghar added. “We have conducted thorough studies on alcohol consumption in urban and rural areas of the country and have compiled a wealth of data on the subject.”

[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]