Calculating QALYs and DALYs: Methods and Applications to Fatal and Non-Fatal Conditions

  • F. Sassi


Quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) have been used in the assessment of health interventions for three decades. The popularity of the QALY approach has been constantly increasing, although the debate on its theoretical underpinnings and practical implications is still ongoing. Disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), also widely debated, were shaped some 20 years later, broadly within the same conceptual framework but with a number of important differences.

This chapter provides an illustration of DALY and QALY calculation methods, offering practical instruments for assessing the impact of health interventions. Systematic differences between QALYs and DALYs are explained by reference to two examples: the prevention of tuberculosis, and the treatment of bipolar depression. When a health intervention is aimed at preventing or treating a non-fatal disease the relationship between QALYs gained and DALYs saved depends on age of onset and duration of the disease, as well as by quality of life and disability weights. In the case of a potentially fatal disease, a larger number of factors may determine differences between outcomes assessed with the two metrics. The relative importance of some of these factors is discussed and graphically illustrated in the chapter. Understanding similarities and differences between QALYs and DALYs is important to researchers and policy makers, for a sound interpretation of the evidence on the outcomes of health interventions.


Bipolar Depression Standard Gamble Disability Weight QALY Gain Quality Adjust Life Expectancy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

List of Abbreviations:


disability-adjusted life year


global burden of disease (study)


quality-adjusted life expectancy


quality-adjusted life year


year of life lived with disability


year of life lost


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© Springer Science+Business Media LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • F. Sassi
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Social PolicyThe London School of Economics and Political ScienceLondonUK
  2. 2.Present address: Health DivisionOECDParisFrance

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