By Joanne Silberner

Later this month, global health luminaries will gather in Seattle to celebrate the anniversary of a relationship that had a rocky start back in 1986, when a brash young Rhodes scholar marched into the World Health Organization office of an epidemiologist who had published research papers on mortality in Africa.

“Are you Alan Lopez?” the visitor asked. “Yes,” Lopez remembers answering. “Well, I’m Chris Murray, and everything you’ve written about Africa is wrong.”

Lopez, a bit of a contrarian himself, took an immediate liking to Murray, and together they set out to change the way diseases are considered around the world. And 20 years ago they published their initial results in the medical journal The Lancet. The new numbers, using data from 2016, have just been published.

The publication was a major step in the establishment of a revolutionary new concept: the global burden of disease. The two men compared not just the death toll of various illnesses and conditions, but also the burdens the illnesses and conditions cause while people are still alive.


Christopher Murray is the Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington and a Professor of Global Health.

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