UW News

August 19, 2010

Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation launches landmark survey to discover the impact of disease worldwide

With so many products aimed at making people look and feel younger, it might be surprising to learn that not everyone wants to live forever.

When the UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) asked people in Indonesia whether they would want to live for five years with perfect health or 15 years with serious disabilities, they chose the shorter life. Other countries chose the exact opposite.

Those types of choices drive the landmark Global Burden of Disease 2010 Health Measurement Survey, an Internet survey launched by IHME in collaboration with more 800 researchers around the world to measure people’s values around various diseases, injuries, and risk factors.

The 15-minute, anonymous survey can be taken online here. The researchers aim to gather opinions from 50,000 people.

The questions read like this: “Imagine two people. One is completely blind. The other suffers from constant and intense back pain. Who is healthier overall?”

“In order to truly assess the impact of diseases and injuries worldwide, we need to know the values that people place on different conditions,” said Dr. Ali Mokdad, a UW Professor of Global Health who designed the survey from IHME. “Those values are shaped by people’s cultural, educational, and economic circumstances. By gathering these different voices from around the world, we are able to give these health problems the weight they deserve.”

With unprecedented money pouring into global health efforts, the need for accurate data is urgent. By taking part in the survey, people will contribute to the scientific understanding of global health problems and ultimately will enable policymakers to spend that money wisely, Mokdad said.

The research is part of the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2010 led by IHME, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Queensland, and the World Health Organization. Rebecca Cooley, a program officer at IHME, has been coordinating the survey from the UW.

IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray and Dr. Joshua Salomon, associate professor of International Health at Harvard University, oversaw the survey content.

The online survey supplements the face-to-face household surveys that IHME and its collaborators conducted over the past year in the United States, Tanzania, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Peru, and South Africa, Mokdad said.

Mokdad is an expert on surveys. Before coming to the UW, he oversaw the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the largest health survey in the U.S. His work on obesity helped put that condition on the map as a major public health threat.

“Web surveys are cheap and allow you to gather data in no time,” Mokdad said. “On both the website and in the household surveys, we are asking people about demographics and income and where they live. We will be able to compare the two datasets and see how different characteristics are associated with people’s perceptions.”

IHME has been promoting the survey by encouraging people to become fans of the survey on Facebook here and asking people to follow the survey on Twitter here.