Publication date: 
January 8, 2016

In the 1980s and early 1990s, AIDS was a frightening disease with no end in sight. It was the third-leading killer of people ages 15 to 49 in 1990.

A decision by the NIH to devote 10% of its research budget every year to fight the disease helped shift the course of the epidemic in the US and around the world, as mentioned in a recent Science article.

With its recently unveiled 2016-2020 strategic plan, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is aiming to replicate this success for other diseases that cause the most early death and disability in the US and worldwide. One of the factors the NIH will consider when determining how to best direct public resources is burden of disease data, which allow decision-makers to directly compare the impact of diseases that kill, such as cancer, and conditions that disable, such as depression. IHME is the coordinating center for burden of disease research.

“This strategic plan will guide our efforts to turn scientific discoveries into better health, while upholding our responsibility to be wise stewards of the resources provided by the American people,” said NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins when the plan was released in December 2015.

The use of burden of disease data will harmonize decision-making across the agency’s nearly 30 institutes and centers. By working with its partners – including the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation – the NIH will collect and integrate high-quality burden of disease data into its priority-setting processes. The NIH analyzed how burden of disease data compared to NIH funding for different diseases.

The release of the agency’s strategic plan comes on the heels of the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act through the House of Representatives, which awards the NIH an additional 3% real increase in funding per year for the next three years, with an additional $2 billion awarded over the next five years for an NIH Innovation Fund. This act was passed with strong bipartisan support.

The NIH’s analysis of US burden of disease data reveals the massive burden of non-communicable diseases such as mental health, cancer, and heart disease. It also indicates that funding levels for diseases like HIV – which has experienced a stabilization of incidence in recent years – are relatively high compared to their burden. But researchers believe they may be close to finding a vaccine for HIV. Faced with competing priorities, in its strategic plan the NIH noted burden of disease data “will serve as a crucial, but not the only, consideration in aligning NIH’s research priorities with public health needs.” The agency says it will continue to engage in a comprehensive process that draws in scientific experts and thought leaders. In doing so, the NIH will chart a path toward better health for all.