Background: Summary measures of population health are increasingly used in different public health reporting systems for setting priorities for health care and social service delivery and planning. Disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) are one of the most commonly used health gap summary measures in the field of public health and have become the key metric for quantifying burden of disease (BoD). BoD methodology is, however, complex and highly data demanding, requiring a substantial capacity to apply, which has led to major disparities across researchers and nations in their resources to perform themselves BoD studies and interpret the soundness of available estimates produced by the Global Burden of Disease Study. Methods: BoD researchers from the COST Action European Burden of Disease network reflect on the most important methodological choices to be made when estimating DALYs. The paper provides an overview of eleven methodological decisions and challenges drawing on the experiences of countries working with BoD methodology in their own national studies. Each of these steps are briefly described and, where appropriate, some examples are provided from different BoD studies across the world. Results: In this review article we have identified some of the key methodological choices and challenges that are important to understand when calculating BoD metrics. We have provided examples from different BoD studies that have developed their own strategies in data usage and implementation of statistical methods in the production of BoD estimates. Conclusions: With the increase in national BoD studies developing their own strategies in data usage and implementation of statistical methods in the production of BoD estimates, there is a pressing need for equitable capacity building on the one hand, and harmonization of methods on the other hand. In response to these issues, several BoD networks have emerged in the European region that bring together expertise across different domains and professional backgrounds. An intensive exchange in the experience of the researchers in the different countries will enable the understanding of the methods and the interpretation of the results from the local authorities who can effectively integrate the BoD estimates in public health policies, intervention and prevention programs.

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Archives of Public Health
Department of Public Health

von der Lippe, E. (Elena), Devleesschauwer, B., Gourley, M. (Michelle), Haagsma, J., Hilderink, H. B., Porst, M. (Michael), … Grant, I. (Ian). (2020). Reflections on key methodological decisions in national burden of disease assessments. Archives of Public Health, 78(1). doi:10.1186/s13690-020-00519-7