Epic Measures: One Doctor. Seven Billion Patients.by Jeremy N. Smith
Published on April 7th 2015
Moneyball meets medicine in this remarkable chronicle of one of the greatest scientific quests of our timeâ€”the groundbreaking program to answer the most essential question for humanity: how do we live and die?â€”and the visionary mastermind behind it.
Medical doctor and economist Christopher Murray began the Global Burden of Disease studies to gain a truer understanding of how we live and how we die. While it is one of the largest scientific projects ever attemptedâ€”as breathtaking as the first moon landing or the Human Genome Projectâ€”the questions it answers are meaningful for every one of us: What are the worldâ€™s health problems? Who do they hurt? How much? Where? Why?
Murray argues that the ideal existence isnâ€™t simply the longest but the one lived well and with the least illness. Until we can accurately measure how people live and die, we cannot understand what makes us sick or do much to improve it. Challenging the accepted wisdom of the WHO and the UN, the charismatic and controversial health maverick has made enemiesâ€”and some influential friends, including Bill Gates who gave Murray a $100 million grant.
In Epic Measures, journalist Jeremy N. Smith offers an intimate look at Murray and his groundbreaking work. From ranking countriesâ€™ healthcare systems (the U.S. is 37th) to unearthing the shocking reality that world governments are funding developing countries at only 30% of the potential maximum efficiency when it comes to health, Epic Measures introduces a visionary leader whose unwavering determination to improve global health standards has already changed the way the world addresses issues of health and wellness, sets policy, and distributes funding.
Christopher Murray is originally from New Zealand but he grew up around the world.Â His parents ran a clinic in west Africa for a year.Â The clinic was so understaffed when they got there that Chris and his older siblings had to do a lot of the care.Â During their time there the family noticed that malnourished people who were fed got sick from malaria.Â They found out that the virus requires iron to thrive.Â When people are starving they don’t have the iron stores for their bodies to support the virus.Â When they are refed, they are again good hosts for the disease.Â The family published their findings in Lancet.Â This led to Chris’ lifelong interest in scientific research – especially research into whether or not conventional wisdom is correct.
At the World Health Organization, he found that a lot of the health data used to make policy decisions was based on numbers that were made up.Â He worked with another researcher to develop a formula that figured out the true cost of disease in each country.Â He also took into consideration not just the deaths from that disease but the damage done from a disease causing less than optimal health in the population.Â I also appreciated his focus on adult health statistics and not just childhood disease.
Using this data lets countries and NGOs decide where the most effective places to put their money are.Â Does it help more people to treat malaria or diarrhea?Â If you can only vaccinate for one is it better to give polio vaccine or measles?Â Measles kills more people but if you survive it you are fine.Â Polio doesn’t kill as many people but survivors have more disability.Â These are the kinds of questions that they try to answer.
I found the subject matter interesting but the book got bogged down in a lot of interdepartmental politics in the middle.Â It picks up again at the end with ideas for living a better life based on the findings of the Global Burden of Disease study.Â If you are interested in the real life applications of science and mathematics, this is a great book for you.