Each year, billions of dollars in foreign aid are earmarked for various global health priorities. The process by which any given health area ascends to priority status may vary with context, but as a global health community, we shoulder a collective responsibility to target our efforts based on reliable data that point to where the need is greatest.
Think of global health spending as denominated in different “currencies” — not dollars, pounds or euros, but impact based on disease burdens. Is there higher mortality from respiratory infection and pneumonia than, say, diarrhea in your country? Then interventions against pneumonia will have a higher value in terms of saving lives. When the United States uncoupled the dollar from the gold standard in the 1970s, global currencies floated free and had to find their own relative value against one another. In global health, we are on the cusp of a periodic revaluing moment, one in which our standard unit of measure is being reset.
On Dec. 14, The Lancet together with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation will release their study on global burden of disease, injuries and risk factors in 2010. These “gold standard” data will quantify the world’s health problems by examining statistics for 291 diseases and injuries and 67 different risk factors for 21 regions across three time periods — 1990, 2005 and 2010. Global health implementing organizations like the one I lead are also looking forward to the highly anticipated announcement that a new IHME burden estimation model will give us more frequent updates on the information we need to increase the relevance and impact of our health programs.