Published: Dec. 13, 2012

Researcher helps set agenda for global health

Contact(s): Andy McGlashen Media Communications office: (517) 355-2281

A Michigan State University professor is among the lead authors of the largest-ever study of the global distribution and causes of many major diseases, injuries and health risk factors.

Published today in a special issue of The Lancet, the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 involved nearly 500 authors in 50 countries studying the worldwide impact of more than 200 health conditions.

Gretchen Birbeck, professor of neurology and epidemiology in MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, led the portion of the study focused on epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and headaches.

The project began with the GBD 1990 study, published in 1996. It has been updated periodically, but the new study is the first complete reassessment of global disease data. Birbeck said the effort is remarkable in that it takes a big-picture view to understand the full effects of diseases, rather than simply tallying deaths.

“There are lots of terrible diseases that don’t kill people but still leave them burdened,” Birbeck said. “For instance, headaches are very common. And when you have someone with a severe headache or migraine, they can be completely incapacitated. Findings from the new study indicate that headaches are the eighth most disabling disorder globally, and fourth for women.”

Birbeck said earlier reports from the project have had a strong influence on policy decisions about where to direct research dollars, and she expects this report to have a similar impact.

“When you stop just counting bodies and look at how these diseases affect people’s daily lives, neurologic and psychiatric disorders make up almost a third of the global health burden,” she added. “Inclusion of headaches in our consideration of important global and public health conditions may mark a paradigm shift that causes people to step back and think about disease in a different way.”

The work was led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, with key collaborating institutions including the University of Queensland, the Harvard School of Public Health, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the University of Tokyo, Imperial College London and the World Health Organization.

Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, said the study “marks a milestone in global health knowledge and our capacity for evidence-based action. It will once again set the terms of health policy, planning, and funding discussions for years to come.”

Gretchen Birbeck, MSU professor of neurology and epidemiology, is among the lead authors of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010, a comprehensive report on how more than 200 health conditions affect people around the world. Photo by G.L. Kohuth.

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