Publication date: 
February 10, 2015

Trends in the world’s most populous countries have a huge impact on the global health picture overall. If the child mortality rate improves even modestly in a country as big as India, it can have enormous implications for the total number of children who die before the age of 5 every year. That’s one of the reasons it was such an important step for global health efforts when China took an active role in the Global Burden of Disease project. Beginning in early 2013, IHME has worked alongside the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC), China’s National Center for Chronic and Non-communicable Disease Control and Prevention, and Peking University to collect and synthesize data from China on more than 300 diseases, injuries, and risk factors. The partnership, which has proven a great success, produced burden of disease results that have had a significant impact for China.

Some of the study’s findings were predictable: the country’s rapid socioeconomic development has proven both positive and negative in terms of population health. However, some of the specific results were surprising. Life expectancy in China has increased greatly since 1990, while death and illness from infectious diseases have decreased more rapidly than anticipated. For the first time, non-communicable diseases, namely cardiovascular disease and cancer, are the leading causes of death in China. Contributing to this trend are risk factors including poor diets, high blood pressure, tobacco use, and environmental pollution.

“Even modest reduction of behavior risk factors could generate substantial health benefits,” says Dr. Yang Gonghuan of the China CDC, who helped lead the national study.

In April 2013, GBD experts who are part of the Health Effects Institute in Boston and Tsinghua University convened an international workshop on air pollution in China. They showed to researchers and policymakers there how outdoor air pollution contributed to 1.2 million deaths and 25 million healthy years of life lost in 2010.

The following April, the National People’s Congress amended the Chinese Environmental Protection Law, providing tougher tools for combatting air pollution, including the ability to seize facilities found to be polluting the air. The amended law took effect on January 1, 2015.

The GBD study’s impact has been so great that China and IHME are now partnering to conduct a subnational GBD study in China. This work aims to identify differences in disease burden by province, information that can help guide policy at the local level.