GPLEX Preview Discussion: Seattle as a Hub of Global Health Research

On April 23, as part of a special preview of the upcoming Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange, the Economy League brought together local healthcare leaders for a discussion with Dean Owen, Senior Manager for Communications and Marketing at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle. Learn more about Seattle’s role as a global health hub and other work at this year’s Leadership Exchange, taking place Sept 30 – Oct 3. Apply by May 8!


Mapping the world’s health in 5 x 5 km blocks to identify differences in child death rates within African nations. Quantifying the amount of funding spent on HIV/AIDS care, treatment, and prevention worldwide. Identifying disparities in U.S. states with the highest rates of cardiovascular disease. 


These are just a few of the wide-ranging projects undertaken by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) aimed at improving global health by providing rigorous data to measure the world’s most important health problems.


IHME launched in 2007 with the goal of providing an independent, evidence-based picture of global health trends to inform the work of policymakers, researchers, and funders. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the primary funders, providing over $750 million in funding over 10 years.


Their signature project is the Global Burden of Disease, an annual study and tool that quantifies health loss from hundreds of diseases, injuries, and risk factors. This data is used by researchers and policymakers to improve health systems worldwide, and IHME works with 3,200 collaborators around the world in over 140 countries to collect data and disseminate findings.


IHME has also applied these techniques to work in the US, drilling down to the county and even census-tract level to identify health disparities. A recently published study on state-by-state comparisons of health trends from 1990 – 2016 exposed a seven-year gap between life expectancies in Hawaii (81.3 years) and Mississippi (74.7 years). A census tract analysis of King County, where Seattle is located, revealed an 18-year gap in life expectancy. In Philadelphia, a similar analysis by zip code found a 20 year gap in life expectancy.


One of the most striking aspects of IHME is their commitment not only to collecting data, even in some of the most inaccessible parts of the world, but also in making this data open and accessible to all. They synthesize data from surveys as well as hospital records, insurance records, police data, satellite imagery, and financial data to build a fuller picture of global health. All data (including over 80 billion data points!) is available online and IHME is always on the lookout for partnerships with public and private organizations to turn the data into improved health outcomes.  


At this year’s Leadership Exchange in Seattle, we will be learning more about Seattle’s global health sector and how it contributes to addressing local health disparities, among other exciting topics on economic growth, securing large public transit investments, managing homelessness, and more. Learn more at