The burden of disease was developed by the Harvard School of Public Health, World Bank and WHO in the 1990s. The burden of disease describes death and loss of health due to diseases, injuries and other risk factors present in the world.
The burden of any disease is estimated by adding the years lost by a person by dying from the disease to the years they had to live from any disability caused by the disease.
Estimation of Burden of Disease
The burden of disease can be estimated with the help of national and international policies related to health. It is assumed that they shall provide accurate and meaningful data for such estimates.
However, sometimes it becomes difficult to estimate the burden of disease from such data because the available data is fragmented and concentrates only on the total number of deaths and does not include disability in their scope.
Assessing outcomes such as mortality and morbidity (the prevalent diseases) provides an encompassing view of a particular burden a disease can generate.
Disability Adjusted Life Years
The total mortality and the prevalent diseases are known as the ‘burden of disease’. This can be measured by Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs).
This metric measures lost health and directly compares how much a particular disease can burden across countries and between different populations over time.
One DALY is considered equal to losing one year of good health and a healthy life.
Global Burden of Disease
The Global Burden of Disease project aims to quantify this loss by calculating the number of healthy years of life lost globally. The burden of disease can be broken down into these categories of disability or disease, non-communicable diseases, communicable, heretical, nutritional diseases and injuries.
Communicable, Maternal, Neonatal and Nutritional Diseases
Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs)
Diarrhoea, lower respiratory & other common infectious diseases
Cardiovascular diseases (inc. stroke, heart disease and heart failure)
Other transport injuries
Malaria and neglected tropical diseases
Diabetes, blood and endocrine diseases
Mental and substance use disorders
Fire, heat and hot substances
Other communicable diseases
Neurological disorders (including dementia)
Conflict & terrorism
Need for Measuring the Burden of Disease
The Global Burden of Disease Study provides estimates of the burden of 333 leading causes of death and disability for almost 195 countries globally. The results of this study are significant from a public health perspective.
This study contains information on –
- Causes of death worldwide
- Causes of death by age, sex and disease
- Number of people with various diseases and disabilities
- Number of people who fall sick each year
- Causes of loss of health and the actual loss of years of good health
Measures Used to Describe Burden of Disease
Some of the primary measures used to describe disease occurrence are –
- Incidence: Development of new cases occur during a specified period
- Prevalence: The number of existing cases divided by the population count is calculated in terms of percentage
- Mortality: Number of deaths in a given time or place and typically expressed in units of deaths per 100,000 individuals per year
- Recurrence: Number of recurring cases during a specified period of time
The importance and need for measuring the global burden of disease are because of the following reasons:
- Initiating policies for health and the environment
- Proper planning for preventive action
- Assessing performance of healthcare systems
- Comparing action and health gain
- Planning future needs
- Prioritising health research
Utility of Burden of Disease Method
WHO uses the Utility method to represent the burden of disease for more than 130 different causes of death and disability worldwide. Based on this data, various scientists can produce a guide to reduce the burden of disease in a country.
Many countries are already using this tool to estimate the burden of disease at the national and state level.
The information generated through this method will enable the policymakers to –
- Allocate resources for prevention and protection from a disease
- Monitor and evaluate safety measures in relevant areas
- Develop new safety standards wherever required
Immense human potential is lost because of diseases or poor health deaths. The Global Burden of Disease project aims to quantify this loss by calculating the number of healthy years of life lost at the global level to take necessary steps to reduce this burden.