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BACKGROUND: The disability adjusted life year (DALY) is a composite measure of disease burden that includes both morbidity and mortality, and is relevant to conditions such as epilepsy that can limit productive functioning. The 2010 Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study introduced a number of new methods and definitions, including a prevalence-based approach and revised disability weights to calculate morbidity and new standard life expectancies to calculate premature mortality. We used these approaches, and local, population-based data, to estimate the burden of convulsive epilepsy in rural South Africa. METHODS & FINDINGS: Comprehensive prevalence, incidence and mortality data on convulsive epilepsy were collected within the Agincourt sub-district in rural northeastern South Africa between 2008 and 2012. We estimated DALYs using both prevalence- and incidence-based approaches for calculating years of life lived with disability. Additionally, we explored how changing the disease model by varying the disability weights influenced DALY estimates. Using the prevalence-based approach, convulsive epilepsy in Agincourt resulted in 332 DALYs (95% uncertainty interval (UI): 216-455) and 4.1 DALYs per 1,000 individuals (95%UI: 2.7-5.7) annually. Of this, 26% was due to morbidity while 74% was due to premature mortality. DALYs increased by 10% when using the incidence-based method. Varying the disability weight from 0.072 (treated epilepsy, seizure free) to 0.657 (severe epilepsy) caused years lived with disability to increase from 18 (95%UI: 16-19) to 161 (95%UI: 143-170). CONCLUSIONS: DALY estimates are influenced by both the methods applied and population parameters used in the calculation. Irrespective of method, a significant burden of epilepsy is due to premature mortality in rural South Africa, with a lower burden than rural Kenya. Researchers and national policymakers should carefully interrogate the methods and data used to calculate DALYs as this will influence policy priorities and resource allocation.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Adolescent, Adult, Child, Child, Preschool, Cost of Illness, Epilepsy, Generalized, Female, Humans, Incidence, Infant, Infant, Newborn, Male, Middle Aged, Prevalence, Quality-Adjusted Life Years, Rural Population, South Africa, Time Factors