We know better and better how often different diseases occur, how deadly they are and whether they affect quality of life. With this knowledge, it is possible to determine the global burden of disease for each case, determining the frequency of its occurrence multiplied by the severity of the disease. Provides interesting information.
For example, many people think that the three most important diseases in Africa are AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, but this is no longer true. In Africa, cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes, have had the greatest impact on health.
The reason is that infectious diseases in poor countries are fought more effectively, so that people are old enough to clog their barrels due to imported Western customs, chief among them McDonald’s and Pepsi-Cola. In Western countries, cardiovascular disease was taken out of the first place due to cancer as the most important disease. This is not because cancer occurs more often, but mainly because cardiovascular disease is better treated.
Advances in medical knowledge through scientific research lead to better approaches to diseases. A good example of this is the astonishing improvement in the treatment of HIV infection, as a direct result of the massive investment in research. Scientists are still working hard on promising programs to control this disease. Or consider the scientific response to keep pace with the rapid development of effective solutions.
The most important way to share new scientific knowledge around the world is through publications in international journals. The Medical Scientific Articles database now contains 30 million publications and 3,000 articles are added every day. Although of course not all of these articles are equally important or relevant, this is an expression of the huge global investment in medical research.
Smart researchers are constantly analyzing this huge mountain of scientific publications. They have repeatedly shown that there is an impressive mismatch between the global burden of certain diseases and the volume of scientific publications on these diseases, read: How much research is being done in these diseases.
For example, relatively little research is done on common conditions, such as back pain, chronic bronchitis, or depression. Clearly, these diseases are not exciting enough to devote a scientific career or to be awarded research grants.
in contrast, Relatively much research has been done on very rare diseases, including some rare types of cancer or liver disease. It is not surprising that the pharmaceutical industry has an amazing effect: as soon as you find an effective pill for something, the number of publications rises exponentially.
If publicly funded research aims to make the world’s population healthier, priority must be given to research into common diseases. An interesting challenge for universities and research funders.
Marcel Levy is Chairman of the Board of the Netherlands Scientific Research Organization (NWO). Previously he was CEO of University College London Hospitals and Chairman of the Board of Directors of AMC. Read all of his columns over here Back.
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