You Are Still Being Lied To About How Many People Live and Die in This World & of What Causes
Accurate and timely data on deaths and causes of death are essential. . . But for more than a quarter of the world's population - largely in Africa, South-East Asia and the Middle East - there are no recent data available. . .The quality of the information suffers as proper systems for death registration operate in only 29 of 115 countries that report such statistics to WHO. These systems represent less than 13 % of the world population. In the remaining countries, mortality statistics suffer from incomplete registration of births and deaths, and incorrect reporting of the cause of death and age. (World Health Organization, 10/05/07 )
Even the most basic life indicators, such as births and deaths, are not directly registered in the poorest countries. Within this decade, only one African country (
Because the powers-that-be haven't seen fit to accurately count life and death despite the technology and resources available to do so (as demonstrated below), they instead use non-empirical ‘guessâÂ€'timates' and what is called statistical "modeling" based on the little real world data we do have, and engage in mumbo jumbo like this, beyond the reach of the average reporter, let alone lay person, to follow, verify, or credit:
For neonatal mortality and incidence of diarrhoea, a standard logit model was used. Logit estimations are used when the outcome variable has two possible values (thus logits are often referred to as binary models). . . Formally, in the logit model the dependant variable Yi is assumed to follow a Bernoulli distribution conditional . . . (from p. 403 of the UN's Human Development Report 2006).
Any time you are advised of world statistics about poverty, hunger, or disease on television, in newspapers, or in requests for your donation dollars, you're not informed that the numbers are not real and are not based on actual surveys conducted around the world. They don't tell you that even in 2008 the world hasn't seen fit to determine how many people live and die, and of what causes, and that because we don't have this essential information even well intentioned relief efforts could be a complete waste, or worse even hurt the people intended to be helped. Only rarely does this truth break through. Here are some examples:
[F]aced with UNAids' warning in the nineties that their teachers were about to be decimated by AIDS, several African governments responded by training armies of replacements. The result, according to
The United Nations' AIDS-fighting agency plans to issue a report today acknowledging that it overestimated the size of the epidemic . . . Some epidemiologists have criticized for years the way estimates were made, and new surveys of thousands of households in several countries have borne them out. . .
(Problem trying to indent this paragraph to the very left) The following are excerpts from the LA Times' extensive investigation whose results appear in their 12/16/07 article entitled "Unintended Victims of Gates Foundation Generosity":
Giving a patient medicine without food is like washing your hands and drying them in the dirt, said Dr. Jennifer Furin, the
Health delivery systems in Africa are now weaker and more fragmented than they were 10 years ago...The weakening has been "exacerbated as the Global Fund and other programs now promote universal access to [AIDS] treatment".
Pregnancy-related deaths often have been the highest in nations where most aid has gone to treat AIDS, TB and malaria, said Dr. Francis Omaswa, special advisor for human resources at the WHO.
Not only can specific relief efforts be counterproductive, as just demonstrated, because we don't yet have sufficiently basic, real life statistics about huge segments of humanity and what really ails them, this lack of knowledge of our lack of knowledge makes us vulnerable to being duped by promises and programs whose stated aims are to change the dismal state of humanity as it exists today.
The United Nations calls their current big promises to help humanity "The Millenium Development Goals" or "MDG's", which are supposed
to be met in the new Millenium, specifically by the year 2015. To get a flavor for them, here are just two of the MDG's:
-Reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger; and
-Reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water. 
(For a discussion on the morality, or lack thereof, of goals which seek to save only half of the people that can be saved, with evidence that all indeed can be saved, see the author's website at www.WhatNewsShouldBe.org.)
One may wonder about the seriousness of promises fashioned so that no one can ever determine whether the promises have been met, particularly when the promises have no accompanying provisions to measure their success. As professor/scientist/lawyer Amir Attaran points out:
Probably the most useful discussion the United Nations could plan . . . would be one that asked world leaders to endorse new goals against which they could truly measure progress. This is feasible . . . For instance, dozens of demographic surveillance sites could be set up in the poorest countries to document births, deaths, illnesses and social services. This has already been done in countries like
In reply, Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of the U.N. Millennium Project does not deny that our data is insufficient:
Of course the data on the world's extremely poor people are weak . . . We need better measurements.
He argues though, that
contrary to Mr. Attaran's claims, experts from the United Nations, the World Bank and academia have been working hard to improve the data. It has not been easy, particularly with so much foot-dragging and backtracking by governments of some of the rich and powerful countries. 
But as Attaran notes in his response to Sachs' reply:
we would not be having this debate if it were about rich people. Imagine if the
In addition to failing to obtain real world data on humanity and honestly exposing this failure, there has also been misuse of the little real data that does exist, good data intentionally ignored, wasteful duplication of rare data collection efforts, as well as disorganization of data, all to such an extent that it appears to involve nothing less than intentional incompetence.
For example, the world's best dataset on the extent of malaria was published free in Nature this year and had been offered to the World Health Organization (WHO) for free (Nature 434, 214). But for a long time the WHO spurned the data. Then, just a day after the Nature paper was published, the WHO rushed out its in-house malaria figures in draft form. Not only did the WHO reject an offer of free, reliable, peer-reviewed data, but it wasted its scarce money duplicating that work. 
even within the UN, different agencies jostle counterproductively for data. For example, in 2002, the WHO launched a new World Health Survey in over 70 countries to compete with the longer-running DHS and MICS. Justified as a "sound basis for evaluating progress towards the millennium development goals", instead the WHO's new survey tied up the few qualified statistical staff in the poorest countries. Three years later (at the time of going to press), the new project has yet to publish a single dataset. (Ironically, the WHO has since created a new project called the Health Metrics Network, for "reducing overlap and duplication" caused by a "plethora of separate and often overlapping [data] systems". One cannot yet say whether the Health Metrics Network will succeed at this important goal, or add a further layer to the problem.)" Attaran, 9/13/05.
There have only been meager and disingenuous attempts to turn things around. A website news search reveals that the "Health Metric Network" referred to by Attaran above, for example, was officially launched two years after his article, on October 28, 2007. As the UN News Centre notes:
The programme was launched today by the Health Metrics Network, a global, WHO-hosted partnership established to address the lack of reliable health information in developing countries.
The lack of civil registration systems - by which governments keep track of births, deaths and marital status of their citizens - means that every year, almost 40 per cent - or 48 million - of 128 million births worldwide go unregistered.
The situation is even worse for death registration: globally, two-thirds - or 38 million - of 57 million deaths a year are not registered. In addition, WHO receives reliable cause-of-death statistics from only 31 of its 193 Member States.
According to WHO, governments cannot design effective public health policies or measure their impact when deaths go uncounted and the causes of death are not documented.
So, what has the Health Metric Network done to launch their program to improve this dismal state of affairs? As the UN News Centre continues to report:
The drive to encourage countries to improve civil registration is launched today with a series of papers published in the medical journal The Lancet, entitled "Who counts?" The papers show that most developing countries have rudimentary or non-existent civil registration systems. They also underscore the challenges of establishing civil registration, including new legislation and governance structures.
The Health Metrics Network has already started working with
So, the Health Metric Network published papers showing humanity needs to be counted . . . and have started working with 3 countries. This is simply . . . under whelming.
Given the absolutely shameful state that vital global statistics are in, it is surprising that those in charge of gathering data on the state of humanity actually CELEBRATE THEIR SUCCESS. Last year - no joke - they had their 60th Anniversary Celebration. Here's what the Director of the UN's Statistical Division had to say on this momentous occasion:
The Statistics Division, or affectionately and more popularly known as UNSD, has, over the years, diligently facilitated the functioning of the Commission and dutifully implemented the tasks assigned.
(That's what the author affectionately calls the Statistics Division too - when she's not thinking about their failure to count the inconsequential stuff, like the life and death of humanity, that is).
Continuing, the celebrating UN's Statistics Director notes that:
In the past 60 years, we have seen real progress in the establishment of the global statistical system, of which the Commission has firmly established itself as the apex entity.
Real progress? Of a GLOBAL statistical system? Again, there aren't even valid statistics on the most significant numbers affecting humanity, you know, it's actual life and death.
And the patience of those involved in gathering such vital statistical data is truly off the charts. See, for example, how patient Mr. Pali Lehohla, the head of statistics in
We have initiated the
The World Bank also advises people to be patient. It advises that "Building statistical systems is a long-term process".
The argument that we can't afford to measure humanity now, however, is false. What is the approximate cost of being able to gather RELIABLE data on the scope of global poverty and the needless death and types of suffering it causes, and what does the failure to have already expended such relatively paltry sums to measure it say about the genuineness of the philanthropists and UN Millennium Development partners' efforts when they have already been made aware of this failure? Okay, the second question is really rhetorical but for the first - how much it would cost to get accurate statistics - the author has only seen one estimate in her reading and searching thus far, that it would cost $40 million dollars annually to obtain reliable data, this from Amir Attaran's follow-up to his article entitled "An Immeasurable Crisis? A Criticism of the Millennium Development Goals and Why They Cannot Be Measured":
Why is measurement of the MDGs so generally poor? According to Sachs and colleagues, it is money. They write that "developing countries and the international system", which presumably includes the UN, "lack the resources to measure" the MDGs.
However, this belief too contradicts the evidence. Concerning the health MDGs, my paper recommended to expand the network of Demographic Surveillance Sites (DSS) as the single most efficient way to obtain timely, accurate measurements. According to a recent study of DSS in
In that context, for Sachs and colleagues to argue that the "international system lacks the resources" to effectively measure the health MDGs is without credibility. The sum of $40 million is under 0.1% of the global foreign aid budget.
Humanity needs to be counted, and again it's been estimated that this counting would cost under 0.1% of the global foreign aid budget. This must hit the front pages of our newspapers, as does news revealing the lie that we now have valid data to assist us in deciding how that global foreign aid budget is best spent because we simply don't have such valid data. If the international system continues to refuse to spend 0.1% of the global foreign aid budget on accurate data so we'll know where the foreign aid should really be going to help the most people the fastest, we can find other ways to get this money.
The results of existing data collection efforts should also be made available to all researchers and to the public at no cost. Some organizations that collect basic data on the very state of humanity, however, don't think it should be provided to the world free of charge. Yeah, it's about the state of the development of humanity and all that, the most important thing to humanity, but hey, they've decided to charge humanity to get access to such data.
Looking for accurate, up-to-date data on development issues? World Development Indicators, the World Bank's respected statistical publication presents the most current and accurate information on global development on both a national level and aggregated globally.
BUT IT'S NOT FREE, BABY. THEY CHARGE YOU TO GET ACCESS TO THE MOST CURRENT AND ACCURATE STUFF. The author learned this while trying to access the data herself. For an individual user, they charge $200 for a one-year subscription to these World Development Indicators (WDI's) on-line, or $275 for a cd-rom of same. You can also "try before you buy" by accessing information from a limited database with limited queries available so you can see how a paid subscription to WDI-online will work. Also, don't worry if you are from a war-torn destitute country like
They say the truth will set us free. Maybe the truth that we still need to gather and actively disseminate information about the real state of humanity will actually improve it for everyone. Knowledge is power. Certainly this continuing lie that we have meaningful data on the state of humanity only serves to keep huge segments of it in the dark - the dark ages, that is.
By Angie D'Urso
Email the author to get a nicely formatted version of this article in PDF format - Angie@WhatNewsShouldBe.org
 Journalist Rian Milan on AIDS, February 2007, at http://tinyurl.com/yqgapv and see P. Bennell, The Impact of the AIDS Epidemic on Schooling in Sub-Saharan Africa at http://www.eldis.org/fulltext/impactofaidsonschooling.pdf
 McNeil, Donald G., Jr., "U.N. to Say It Overstated H.I.V. Cases by Millions",
Times, 11/20/07 at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/20/world/20aids.html New York
 Cheng, Maria, "Experts Call for Rethinking AIDS Money",
To see how extensive, read http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-gatesabout16dec16,0,1359361.story
 Attaran, A., "Necessary Measures", op ed, The New York Times, 9/13/05, at http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/13/opinion/13attaran.html
 Sachs, Jeffrey D., Letter to the Editor, "U.N. Goals: Poor's Best Hope", The
Times, 9/14/05, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B07E2DC1131F937A2575AC0A9639C8B63 New York
 Attaran, A., "MDGs Must Not Be Political Playthings for World Leaders", Science and Development Network at http://www.scidev.net/Opinions/index.cfm?fuseaction=readopinions&itemid=430&language=1 (Amir Attaran is Canada Research Chair in Law, Population Health, and Global Development Policy, University of Ottawa, Canada.)
 Page V of their preface at
 See Chandramohan D, Shibuya K, Setel P, Cairncross S, Lopez AD, et al. (2008) Should Data from Demographic Surveillance Systems Be Made More Widely Available to Researchers? PLoS Med 5(2): e57 at doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050057