Founders of Global Burden of Disease Study receive major international award

Image of Professor Alan Lopez.
Professor Alan Lopez, Australia's first recipient of the John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award.

After decades of work to improve global health University of Melbourne Laureate Professor Alan Lopez has been named as recipient of a prestigious international award for his substantial and sustained contribution to the field.

Professor Lopez and his long-time collaborator Professor Christopher Murray are this year’s recipients of the John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award, widely recognised as the most important distinction in global health research.

The award recognises the two professors’ combined achievements in the Global Burden of Disease Study, which is widely used by governments, donors and development partners to guide health policies and track the impact of health programs.

Professors Lopez and Murray began collaborating on the Global Burden of Disease Study in the early 1990s.

Together they developed and applied a methodology to simultaneously measure the burden of disease from premature death and disability, something that had never been done before.

Their first study covered 107 diseases and 10 risk factors in eight regions of the world.

Currently, their annual study published in the prestigious medical journal, the Lancet, includes more than 300 diseases and injuries in nearly 200 countries.

Professor Lopez said he was greatly honoured to receive the award, but there was still plenty of work to be done.

“To improve health outcomes for their populations, countries need to be accountable for the relevance and effectiveness of their health policies and programs," Professor Lopez said.

"To do that, they need to be able to comprehensively and comparably track the importance - and emergence - of major health problems. The Global Burden of Disease Study provides this essential health intelligence about what the main health problems are in their country and how they are changing.

“Having no data on a health issue is often equated with having no problem with it, yet countries with the biggest health problems often have the poorest or least data.

“Our study is an attempt to fill that void, so that countries have the evidence on which to act to improve the health of their populations.”

Since their pioneering work on the Global Burden of Disease framework 25 years ago, over 70 countries including Australia have applied their methods to understand the priority health challenges they are facing.

“The Australian Government uses Global Burden of Disease data to inform policy debate, and monitor program impact in key areas of population health, including tobacco control, HIV and drink driving. Its bold interventions in these areas, most recently the introduction of plain tobacco packaging, are now paying off and saving thousands of lives,” Professor Lopez said.

  • Alan Lopez, AC FAHMS, is a Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne and the Rowden-White Chair of Global Health and Burden of Disease, Visiting Professor of Epidemiology and Director of the IHME-Big Data Institute Unit at Oxford University and an Affiliate Professor of Global Health at the University of Washington. He is Technical Director of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Data for Health Initiative civil registration and vital statistics arm, a global initiative to improve the registration and certification of births, deaths and causes of death to guide global and national investments for health development.
  • Christopher Murray MD DPhil is Professor of Global Health and Institute Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, at the University of Washington.

The award will be officially conferred in Canada in October.