Improving global health no accident

injury-studiesFlinders University is playing a critical role in a review of a global study that aims to present the most reliable and credible estimates ever available of who dies, where and how.

First commissioned by the World Bank in 1991, the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Study has systematically collected information about levels of disease, injury and health risk factors around the world, influencing public health policy along the way. It is now being updated and improved by an international group of researchers.

Associate Professor James Harrison, Director of Flinders Research Centre for Injury Studies and Dr Kavi Bhalla, Research Scientist at Harvard University’s Initiative for Global Health and a world authority on road traffic accidents, are leading the review’s injury expert group.

Visiting as a recipient of a 2009 Australia-Harvard Fellowship through the Harvard Club of Australia Foundation, Dr Bhalla said the role of the 35 expert groups is to ensure the best possible quality data was collected.

“Many of the data sources, often from death registers, hospitals and other health services, are not in forms that allow researchers to get simple answers,” Dr Bhalla said.

“There’s a lot of analytical work that needs to be done before you can derive sensible, plausible estimates,” he said.

“A lot of deaths are attributed to ‘unspecified causes’. But if you want to tease out what the true cause of death was, with some amount of statistical analysis, you can make an intelligent guess of what that might be.”

Dr Bhalla said the main goal of his visit is to develop methods that will allow the injury expert group researchers to take similar “bad quality” data and make sensible estimates out of them. The data will be provided by the end of 2010.

“The numbers in the very first GBD Study surprised the health community because they don’t usually view injuries as a leading health problem,” he said.

“I’m certain we’ll find injuries are a leading cause of death; that we’ll find that they are in the top three or four causes of death of young adults; and, maybe, in the top two causes of deaths of young adult males.

“That may not be so different from earlier GBD Studies but, this time, because of efforts of groups like ours, we’re going to have much more believable estimates. There will be a lot more evidence behind it, and it will difficult for health policymakers and governments to ignore.”

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