The burden of brain diseases in Europe

J. Olesen, M. Leonardi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The burden [as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO)] of brain diseases (neurological, neurosurgical and psychiatric diseases together) is very high and yet resources spent on these diseases are not necessarily commensurate with the extent of this burden. However, hard data on the burden of brain diseases in Europe have not previously been easily accessible. The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) 1990 study conducted jointly by the WHO, Harvard University and the World Bank provided new measures that are now becoming universally accepted and have been used also in a repeat study: The GBD 2000. The key parameter of the study is disability adjusted life years (DALY), which is the sum of years of life lost (YLL) caused by premature death and years of life lived with disability (YLD). In the present report, data from the GBD 2000 study and from the World Health Report 2001 on brain diseases is extracted for the territory of Europe. This territory corresponds roughly to the membership countries of the European Federation of Neurological Societies. The WHO's Report has a category called neuropsychiatric diseases, which comprises the majority but not all the brain diseases. In order to gather all brain diseases, stroke, meningitis, half of the burden of injuries and half of the burden of congenital abnormalities are added. Throughout Europe, 23% of the years of healthy life is lost and 50% of YLD are caused by brain diseases. Regarding the key summary measure of lost health, DALY, 35% are because of brain diseases. The fact that approximately one-third of all burden of disease is caused by brain diseases should have an impact on resource allocation to teaching, reasearch, health care and prevention. Although other factors are also of importance, it seems reasonable that one-third of the curriculum at medical school should deal with the brain and that one-third of life science funding should go to basic and clinical neuroscience. In addition, resource allocation to prevention, diagnosis and treatment of brain diseases should be increased to approach, at least, one-third of health care expenditure. With the present data on hand, neurologists, neurosurgeons, psychiatrists, patient organizations and basic neuroscientists have a better possibility to increase the focus on the brain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)471-477
Number of pages7
JournalEuropean Journal of Neurology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2003


  • Health economy
  • Health resource allocation
  • Neurology
  • Neuroscience curriculum
  • Neuroscience funding
  • Neurosurgery
  • Psychiatry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neuroscience(all)


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