Monday, December 24, 2012

Global Health Outlook: Living Longer, But Sicker: More Commentary on the Global Burden of Disease Study

Source: NASA
Here is a nice opinion piece from The New York Times about the recently released Global Burden of Disease study; see here for my initial comments on this ambitious project.

The Global Burden of Disease study, again, was a herculean effort. This work involved nearly 500 researchers and describes in exquisite detail current global morbidity and mortality, drawing contrasts to similar data from 1990.

In broad strokes, fewer children under five years of age are dying and people are living longer, but with chronic diseases (such as diabetes and osteoarthritis). Diseases that were once primarily associated with developed nations (such as heart disease and cancer) are now much more frequent causes of death in the developing world.

La Hicaca, Honduras (one of our principle clinic sites)
I work with a group of volunteer physicians and other health professionals in the Yoro area of northern Honduras. One of the things we noted when we began working in this area is that there were surprisingly high rates of obesity, hypertension and diabetes. These health issues did not affect all people uniformly, however. People living up in the mountains tended to have less obesity and diabetes, while people living in suburban and urban areas tended to suffer more from these chronic illnesses. Although the Global Burden of Disease study is powerful, public health interventions in the developing world must take into account local variations in health pressures and needs.

The aforementioned New York Times piece highlights why some of the shifts in global mortality have occurred, citing things like global vaccination efforts, better education for women and focus on achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

One thing is certain: the global health landscape has changed over the past twenty years, and the new data from the Global Burden of Disease study will be useful in both determining public health priorities and optimizing interventions.

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