The use of the disability-adjusted life year (DALY) as the unit in which to calculate the burden of disease associated with reproductive ill-health has given rise to considerable debate. Criticisms include the failure to address the problem of missing and inadequate epidemiological data, inability to deal adequately with co-morbidities, and lack of transparency in the process of ascribing disability weights to sexual and reproductive health conditions. Many of these criticisms could be addressed within the current DALY framework and a number of suggestions to do so are made. These suggestions include: (1) developing an international research strategy to determine the incidence and prevalence of reproductive ill-health and diseases, including the risk of long-term complications; (2) undertaking a research strategy using case studies, population-based surveillance data and longitudinal studies to identify, evaluate and utilize more of the existing national data sources on sexual and reproductive health; (3) comprehensively mapping the natural history of sexual and reproductive health conditions--in males and in females--and their sequelae, whether physical or psychological; (4) developing valuation instruments that are adaptable for both chronic and acute health states, that reflect a range of severity for each health state and can be modified to reflect prognosis; (5) undertaking a full review of the DALY methodology to determine what changes may be made to reduce sources of methodological and gender bias. Despite the many criticisms of the DALY as a measurement unit, it represents a major conceptual advance since it permits the combination of life expectancy and levels of dysfunction into a single measure. Measuring reproductive ill-health by counting deaths alone is inadequate for a proper understanding of the dimensions of the problem because of the young age of many of the deaths associated with reproductive ill-health and the large component of years lived with disability from many of the associated conditions.