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The Global Burden of Disease: Bringing Data to the People

Global Burden of DiseaseChris Murray, a professor of global health at the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, wanted to understand one simple question, “Why do people get sick and die?” To get the answer, he created a comprehensive database known as the Global Burden of Disease (GBD).

The tool is incredibly useful to policymakers and health care providers whose mission is to keep people healthy. Health is affected by a variety of factors including one’s demographics. Where someone lives play a role in his or her vulnerability to certain health risks; some countries experience higher rates of heart disease due to cultural dietary influences while others lose children at early ages because they do not have access to necessary vaccinations.

In order to effectively address health issues in a given country, there needs to be a clear picture of what the biggest health culprits are. While data that could help paint that picture has existed for years, it has been scattered among researchers, hospitals and governments, making it inaccessible and consequently less useful.

Murray created the GBD data collection to provide information to health workers, policymakers and the general public. It is the largest effort to measure epidemiological levels and health trends globally and contains the collected and analyzed data of more than 1,000 researchers in more than 100 countries.

The GBD is open to everyone and contains a visualization of data that allows for greater contextualization of what has been collected and observed. Experts from around the world have collaborated and continue to update the database to ensure it stays as accurate as possible.

In the 2013 systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease, researchers found that since 1990 the global life expectancy for both sexes has increased from 65.3 years to 71.5 years. However, an individual’s life expectancy and the likely cause of death differs based on where he or she lives and the economic status of his or her home country, which understandably plays a considerable role in the individual’s health.

For instance, while there have been reductions in the number of child deaths attributed to diarrhea, lower respiratory tract infections and neonatal causes in low-income regions, these health complications are still the leading cause of death in children younger than 5 years and are more prominent in poor countries compared to wealthy countries.

The GBD delivers information to the hands of people who can provide solutions. It allows health care workers to pinpoint the problem in order to begin addressing it. If governments know their citizens are vulnerable to certain health risks they can work toward identifying the causes and implementing solutions. There has always been power in knowledge, and the GBD allows for the consolidation of knowledge, thereby increasing its untapped power.

Brittney Dimond

Sources: WHO, The Gates Notes, IHME

Photo: Flickr