The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) concept has been used by the World Health Organization (WHO) for its reporting on health information for nearly 10 years. The GBD approach results in a single summary measure of morbidity, disability, and mortality, the so-called disability-adjusted life year (DALY). To ensure transparency and objectivity in the derivation of health information, WHO has been urged to use reference groups of external experts to estimate burden of disease.
Under the leadership and coordination of WHO, expert groups have been appraising and abstracting burden of disease information. Examples include the Child Health Epidemiology Reference Group (CHERG), the Malaria Monitoring and Evaluation Reference Group (MERG), and the recently established Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG). The structure and functioning of and lessons learnt by these groups are described in this paper.
External WHO expert groups have provided independent scientific health information while operating under considerable differences in structure and functioning. Although it is not appropriate to devise a single “best practice” model, the common thread described by all groups is the necessity of WHO's leadership and coordination to ensure the provision and dissemination of health information that is to be globally accepted and valued.