Bull World Health Organ 2000 78(5)
Assessing the burden of sexual and reproductive ill-health: questions regarding the use of disability-adjusted life years
C. AbouZahrI; J.P. VaughanII
IFormerly Technical Officer, Department of Reproductive Health and Research, World Health Organization, Geneva IIProfessor of Epidemiology and Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, England
The use of the disability-adjusted life year (DALY) as the unit in which to calculate the burden of disease associated with reproductive ill-health has given rise to considerable debate. Criticisms include the failure to address the problem of missing and inadequate epidemiological data, inability to deal adequately with co-morbidities, and lack of transparency in the process of ascribing disability weights to sexual and reproductive health conditions. Many of these criticisms could be addressed within the current DALY framework and a number of suggestions to do so are made. These suggestions include: (1) developing an international research strategy to determine the incidence and prevalence of reproductive ill-health and diseases, including the risk of long-term complications; (2) undertaking a research strategy using case studies, population-based surveillance data and longitudinal studies to identify, evaluate and utilize more of the existing national data sources on sexual and reproductive health; (3) comprehensively mapping the natural history of sexual and reproductive health conditions — in males and in females — and their sequelae, whether physical or psychological; (4) developing valuation instruments that are adaptable for both chronic and acute health states, that reflect a range of severity for each health state and can be modified to reflect prognosis; (5) undertaking a full review of the DALY methodology to determine what changes may be made to reduce sources of methodological and gender bias. Despite the many criticisms of the DALY as a measurement unit, it represents a major conceptual advance since it permits the combination of life expectancy and levels of dysfunction into a single measure. Measuring reproductive ill-health by counting deaths alone is inadequate for a proper understanding of the dimensions of the problem because of the young age of many of the deaths associated with reproductive ill-health and the large component of years lived with disability from many of the associated conditions.