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UW releases most widespread global-health study

UW releases most widespread global-health study

UW releases most widespread global-health study Photo by News

The UW unveiled the world’s most comprehensive analysis of global health on Tuesday through a variety of online interactive tools.

The tools, completed by the UW Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), allow people to view global disease from 1990 to 2012 by nation, by risk factors, and by death.

The website, produced in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, uses data from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2010 (GBD) to show trends and levels of health.

Bill Gates called the tools a milestone achievement, at a conference in Seattle on Tuesday morning.

“This is going to help us … get better health policies more rapidly,” Gates said. “It kicks off a world where we’re really going to be able to talk about our health statistics in a remarkable way.”

The tools measure global disease by deaths, years of life lost, years lost due to disabilities, and “disability-adjusted life years” (DALYs). According to the study, the leading global disease in the United States is ischemic heart disease (IHD), or low blood supply to the heart.

IHD is part of a category of noncommunicable diseases. This category largely dominates the global disease burden in developed countries. In developing countries, however, the study shows balance of disease is much more varied, with communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional diseases causing much of the burden.

Christopher Murray, IHME director and UW professor, said these disease categories are important in providing the overall picture of how the global disease burden has changed since 1990, where the study started.

“Even in the worst off places we’ve seen progress but this also shows that we see different levels of progress in different places,” Murray said.

Critics of the GBD have previously questioned the transparency of the study, saying the tools used don’t necessarily provide accurate data. Murray said he attempted to address this criticism through the tools.

“How good is the data? It depends on the place and it depends on the polls,” Murray said. “There’s a whole series of tools that allow you to explore the uncertainty of the numbers.”

The tools were unveiled at the conference, which hosted researchers and leaders from around the world. Many attending researchers questioned how the tools will be used going forward.

“We may know a great amount more than we did before; we may understand a great deal more things than we did before,” UW President Michael Young said. “Now, the challenge before us is to do something about the things that we understand better.”

Panelists addressed the possibility of using the information as a tool for resource policy. Ali Mokdad, a UW professor of global health who leads the surveys at the IHME, said it could inform leaders where money should be spent in health care.

“People are interested in what’s the burden and how much it’s costing them to deal with that burden,” Mokdad said.

He said particularly in the Middle East, countries will use these tools to respond to protests of a failing health-care system.

Murray said he hopes the tools will be used to reach a diverse audience in the health-care world.

“What we see in the burden of disease is both the story of success, the story of an unfinished agenda, but also the power of local information that is we hope easily accessed and intuitive to a diverse sense of users,” Murray said.

Reach News Editor Jillian Stampher at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @JillianStampher

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