Objective: To rank health problems contributing most to the burden of disease in Zimbabwe using disability-adjusted life years as the population health measure.
Methods: Epidemiological information was derived from multiple sources. Population size and total number of deaths by age and sex for the year 1997 were taken from a nationwide census. The cause of death pattern was determined based on data from the Vital Registration System, which was adjusted for under-reporting of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and reallocation of ill-defined causes. Non-fatal disease figures were estimated based on local disease registers, surveys and routine health service data supplemented by estimates from epidemiological studies from other settings if no Zimbabwean sources were available. Disease and public health experts were consulted about the identification of the best possible sources of information, the quality of these sources and data adjustments made.
Results: From the information collected, HIV infection emerged as the single most serious public health problem in Zimbabwe responsible for 49% of the total disease burden. A quarter of the total burden of disease was attributed to morbidity rather than premature mortality. The share of the disease burden was similar in females and males.
Conclusion: Using local sources of information to a large extent, it was possible to develop plausible estimates of the size and the relative significance of the major health problems in Zimbabwe. The disease pattern of Zimbabwe differed substantially from regional estimates for sub-Saharan Africa justifying the need for countries to develop their own burden of disease estimates.