Measuring the Experienced Burden of Disease

By Tine Dolmer, Communication and Event Officer at DIAS

Since March 2020, PhD Angela Y. Chang has been a DIAS Fellow and Assistant Professor at the Department of Clinical Research at SDU. She is committed to reducing health and wealth inequalities globally through her research and is motivated by the belief that research can provide the inputs needed to inform policies and improve resource allocation, and ultimately, impact population health. 

As a researcher within health science, Angela Y. Chang is very interested in how we can measure the experienced burden of disease, not just clinically but also the economic, social and psychological impact, and how the impact might differ depending on the quality of the country’s healthcare system.

As Chang explains, the experience of being blind is very different if you live in e.g. Denmark or Zimbabwe, but in health science we consider this the same disease. The clinical severity of being blind is the same, but you would expect that the experience is very different because we have a great health system in Denmark, while you might not get that much help in Zimbabwe due to a lack of resources.

One of the great things about doing health research in Denmark is that we have very extensive registries. You can use the data to compare multiple impacts of disease across different diseases, like breast cancer and depression. Actually, this is very unique for Denmark; only few countries in the world have registries that make is possible to combine healthcare data with e.g. economic, social, and psychological data.

Supporting policymaking

Angela Y. Chang is truly concerned about real life and how academia should play an actual role in the society. The aim of her research is to help policymakers set the priorities and make good decisions about how to allocate health and welfare resources to different diseases based on evidence on how different population groups are affected by the diseases. Some diseases predominantly affect certain groups of people, so the question is if they should receive more support than they do now.

One of the challenges when working with public health is to avoid making judgements on what is good or bad, e.g. is smoking good or bad? This is why Chang is always very careful to check if she has any bias. As she says, the best research question is when you don’t know the answer.

The relation between gender equality and health

Another topic that Angela Y. Chang is very interested in is the relation between gender equality and health; if the level of equality in a country has an effect on health or not. As an example, Chang mentions a new study on COVID-19 that shows that countries with a high level of gender equality tend to have more female deaths than countries with a lower level of equality.

Chang has been interested in the relation between gender equality and health for a long while, and by becoming a DIAS Fellow she now has the freedom to explore it further in collaboration with international colleagues.

Life at DIAS

Angela Y. Chang has been a DIAS Fellow since March 2020. By chance a colleague from her PhD programme already knew DIAS Chair Christine Stabell Benn and suggested that Chang applied for a position at DIAS. One of the things about DIAS that attracted Chang is the freedom to do her own research:  

The complete freedom to do whatever you want in terms of research is a luxury to have. Not every academic institution will allow me to do that.

– Angela Y. Chang 

Chang thinks that DIAS has a unique combination of being a new institution while being supported by chairs with a long and rich background in research. DIAS aims to give researchers the complete freedom to do their research, combined with unconditional support. That is very attractive for Chang as a researcher. Chang is particularly grateful for the support she has received from DIAS Chairs of Health Science, Christine Stabell Benn, Kaare Christensen, and James Vaupel.

More about Angela Y. Chang