International review of rapid assessments conducted on drug use
Rapid assessments within the substance use field were first introduced in the early 1990s and in the last three years, the approach has generated increasing interest as a means of quickly profiling drug-related problems, mobilising HIV prevention efforts among injecting and other drug users, as well as initiating policy change and service re-orientation. The report commissioned by the WHO Drug Injecting Study to map the emergence of rapid assessments in the substance use field through a comprehensive retrospective evaluation of rapid assessment studies on drug use aims to fill this current gap in knowledge.
Key messages from the report
- Rapid assessments have the potential to generate important public health information that can be used to develop intervention programmes. At least 83 rapid assessment studies have been conducted between 1993 and 2001, with the approach being used in at least 70 countries. Furthermore, intervention responses have been developed in at least 50 countries.
- In order to realise such potential on a much wider scale, investment has to be made in rapid assessment's evidence and knowledge base. This should involve the continued monitoring of rapid assessment, an establishment of a public forum for discussion and debate, the centralisation of existing methodological guidelines and resources and greater coverage on intervention development in existing written materials.
- To achieve this there is a need to introduce a culture of learning, reflection and discussion into a methodology primarily premised on rapidity and pragmatism.
- Intervention development in a rapid assessment is not merely the result of correctly following methodological instructions, but is also contingent upon social, cultural, political, economic and environmental factors.
This report acknowledges that rapid assessment is not a substitute for longer-term, in-depth quantitative or qualitative research, and that consequently, potential links between rapid assessment and other public health tools need to be explored further.