Last month, The Lancet published the 2016 Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD), the global health community’s annual look into mortality and morbidity for major diseases, injuries and other health risk factors worldwide. The takeaway from this year’s study? “The world is becoming healthier, but progress is uneven,” write editors at The Lancet.   

The study found that although people are living longer, they are spending more time in ill health. In 2016, life expectancy worldwide rose to a record high of 69.8 years for men and 75.3 for women. But alongside those gains were increasing rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Researchers found that poor diet, one of the leading risk factors for poor health, is now responsible for one in five deaths worldwide. Nearly three quarters of all global deaths in 2016 resulted from non-communicable disease.

Data from the 2016 study also revealed areas of progress. Deaths from infectious diseases have largely decreased in the past decade, with the exception of dengue. Similarly, the number of deaths of children under the age of five has decreased drastically, placing the total under 5 million for the first time. (This progress was also highlighted in a recent report by the Gates Foundation, which attributed this improvement in part to vaccines.)

The data featured in the 2016 GBD study, which represents the work of nearly 2,700 researchers across more than 130 countries, will be used to guide efforts to reduce the burden of disease worldwide. To make informed decisions for the health of communities, decision makers need accurate, up-to-date information to identify vulnerable populations, assess disease prevalence, and evaluate the efficacy, cost-effectiveness and efficiency of health interventions.

The Sabin Vaccine Institute is working to meet the need for accurate data by driving evidence generation through research, advocacy and education. Sabin supports evidence-based decision making through research, advocacy and education – conducting and supporting disease surveillance to establish the burden of diseases including dengue and typhoid, strengthening laboratory capacity for diagnosis and clinical trials, disseminating existing evidence to decision makers, piloting a more efficient surveillance technology in Paraguay, designing tools for economic analysis and more. Together, these efforts are aimed at assisting countries as they evaluate and streamline vaccine introduction and expansion, ultimately helping to reduce the global burden of vaccine-preventable diseases.

Expanding access and uptake of vaccines is only one component of reducing the global burden of disease. The study’s authors note that this year’s findings indicate that health issues can vary from country to country, and that solutions will require strengthening health systems from top to bottom. To do so, the authors recommend convening a global forum to discuss results and policy implications. Such a forum would also facilitate discussions of some of tomorrow’s looming challenges, including the uncertain effects of climate change on human health.