The End of Guesstimating World Health

“How do we measure health?”

Today, the most well rounded and informed measurements of Global Health come from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation. The IHME is an institute founded on the idea that in order to make informed decisions that affect the most change upon the world, one must have access to accurate data on what’s actually doing the most damage. These ideals play a major part in setting the IHME apart from their competition.

Global health data, particularly before the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation came on the scene, has historically been collected in a half hazard, biased, bureaucratic and unreliable way. For instance, the World Health organization reported fifty percent more disease-specific deaths of children than the UN reported total deaths of children in 1980. This was because no one was being held accountable to the numbers they were reporting or their methods for coming up with them. Advocates also had their own reasons for wanting to say the numbers of various people dying of diseases were greater, as these numbers would allow for them to accumulate more sympathy and thus more funding. While this may have been all well and good for those who received the extra funding, it has been pulling much needed resources away from those who need them most. According to Christopher Murray the numbers of organizations like WHO, the UN, and the World Bank themselves were also found to be using outdated methods to reach their findings, ones that made little to no sense even when they were invented.  Using equations that had no relevance to reality. This was a fact these organizations attempted to shield from Murray’s snooping, but that eventually came to light from his tinkering with the various results they’d reported over the years. The inaccuracy of these findings had significant effects on drawing funding away from where it was needed most.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation stands for a commitment to finding the truth about how people are suffering in the world. This commitment took form as the Global Burden of Disease, on the IHME website described as “a critical resource for informed policy making.” With this resource information detailing the impact of diseases or disabilities in any location and how any specific disease or disability’s impact compares to any other is now available to the public. This information is also extremely accessible in terms of how it is portrayed, using infographics that are both easy to understand and visually appealing. The data that IHME releases tends to be very different from those of its competitors. One of the main leaders of the institute, Christopher Murray, believes these differences will push everyone involved to hunt for more and more accurate data and hold themselves to higher standards.

Part of this system of measurements was the creation of a new unit of measurement to tie everything together: the DALY. A DALY, or a disability adjusted life year, is a unit of measuring the economic and social cost of disease and disability across the world. This unit of measurement allows diseases and disabilities to be seen in relation to one another in several senses. For one, using DALY as a unit also puts death and suffering into the same conversation, breaking the previous trend of focusing almost exclusively on causes of death. Using the DALY as a unit also puts the effect diseases and disabilities have on the lives of those who have them  on the same plane. In other words, the effects diseases and disabilities have are now able to be compared. As this world is designed for able bodied people, people with disabilities often live long lives but frequently suffer throughout their lives from not having their needs met. This method which considers how people live and not just how they die brings greater attention to the needs of those with disabilities.

Despite the way in which the Global Burden of Disease has brought the needs of the disabled further into the spotlight, there are also many problems with how they treat disability. Using the DALY to address disability to begin with ends up discussing disability in fairly problematic language. In talking about disability as detracting years from a persons life disability is being equated to being partially dead. In many cases this is deeply offensive to the disabled community.

Despite it’s drawbacks, the IHME still provides the most impressively accurate, expansive and holistic data base diagnosing the world’s suffering.