Institute of Medicine releases study changes on global causes of death

Christopher Murray (left), director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and professor of global health at the UW School of Medicine, speaks on a panel after presenting on the global burden of disease and its implications for the United States with King Holmes (right), chair and professor of the department of global health at the UW.

Photo by Anastasia Stepankowsky

The preview of a highly anticipated study was revealed yesterday in Kane Hall at the regional meeting of the Institute of Medicine, a nonprofit organization that advises members of Congress on how to advance the nation’s health and health care.

The study, titled “The Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2010,” aims to quantify major health problems in 187 countries from 1990 to 2010 and to understand the trends in key diseases. The results reveal several shifts, focusing on the rise of noncommunicable diseases --— ones that are not infectious or transmissible between people. Initiated in 2007, the study involved hundreds of researchers around the world and will be published in The Lancet on Dec. 14.

Christopher J.L. Murray, UW professor of global health and director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, lectured about the study’s implications for the United States. He described the global burden of disease (GBD) as a scientific effort to quantify the magnitude of health loss due to diseases, injuries, and risk factors by age, sex, place, and different points in time.

“We hope that ‘The Global Burden of Disease’ as an ongoing public good can provide a coherent framework for thinking about both health and what health systems do about health,” Murray said.

Paul Ramsey, CEO of UW Medicine and dean of the UW School of Medicine, said the GBD study has important implications for the U.S. health care system as the Institute of Medicine strives to improve the quality, access, and safety of care while controlling costs.

Three panelists, all professors in the UW School of Medicine, provided commentary about the study from their medical perspectives.

King Holmes, chair and professor in the Department of Global Health, challenged the study, saying that the impact of infectious diseases should not be written off. 

“I would like to suggest that it’s probably premature to write the obituary of infectious diseases just yet,” Holmes said. “In some rate we do need more focus on noncommunicable diseases, but infectious diseases are going to be a continuant.”

He argued that infectious diseases change rapidly over time, they spread and evolve quickly, the pollution of water is increasing, and many noncommunicable diseases could be caused by infectious diseases. 

Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Jürgen Unützer said that as a psychiatrist, he is disappointed with the data from the study because of the prevalence of mental disorders in years lost from life.

“I am not going to challenge the data but I also don’t feel good about it as a psychiatrist,” Unützer said. “We actually have some pretty good treatments but we clearly don’t apply them well, and I think that’s the biggest challenge we have with mental disorders.”

Deborah Nickerson, UW professor of genome sciences, said genomics play an important role in infectious diseases because they can help in analyzing new infections. She discussed how the variation in individual human genomes could affect the explosive growth in population and make a huge impact in genetics.

Questions from the audience brought up the effects of climate change on GBD and types of policy change on which to place focus.

“The scope and comprehensiveness of this work is so notable — this is a resource that can serve so many purposes,” said Harvey Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine. “The most exciting part to me is the usability, and accessibility, and opening up access to understanding and rethinking by people everywhere. There’s a tremendous amount that everyone here that is connected to the university can be proud of; it’s a truly global resource.”

Reach reporter Lauren Becherer at news@daily.com. Twitter: @lo_bech

Note: Some information has been removed from this story to respect an embargo.

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