The National Institute for Health Development conducts research activities in four major fields:
- biostatistics and epidemiology
- medical virology and
- infectious diseases, drug addiction and risk behaviour.
Biostatistics and epidemiology
The main research areas in epidemiology are:
- health behaviour
- women's health and epidemiology of infertility and
- epidemiology of diseases and injuries.
The most frequent cause of death in Estonia is vascular diseases, followed by cancer. We study the effects of vascular disease risk factors, i.e. smoking, low physical activity, high blood levels of cholesterol, hypertonic disease, and overweight, and conduct surveys on prevention of illnesses caused by these risk factors among children and adults.
We also study the main carcinogenic risk factors, the prevalence of having individual cancer markers, and the ways of preventing cancer by practicing healthy lifestyles. In addition, we assess the quality and cost efficiency of screening programmes.
The purpose of our long-term sample surveys is to utilise health checks of children and youths to get an overview of the incidental and modifying factors related to the development of diseases throughout a person's life and an overview of the risk factors that lead to illnesses in older age.
The surveys mostly conducted by the Oncology Department are looking to describe new markers of immune reaction against tumour-associated antigens (TAA) in cancer patients: profiling congenital and adaptive TAA-specific antibodies (Ab) as markers for cancer diagnostics, monitoring, prognosis and selection of risk groups and for assessing the organism's own coping mechanisms and describing their diversity.
We are developing a methodology for cleaning and characterising TAA-specific Ab-subpopulations in order to utilise it in clinical practice.
The main research areas in the field of medical virology are the existence and prevalence of tick-borne zoonosis carriers (tick-borne encephalitis virus, Anaplasma, Borrelia, Babesia), hantaviruses and hepatitis viruses (A, B, C and E) in Estonia; the genetic properties and phylogenetic relations of circulating emergent zoonosis and viral hepatitis carriers; and the significance of the strains circulating in Estonia to infection and progress of the diseases.
We plan to extend our surveys to vector-borne and parasitic diseases and to zoonoses.
Infectious diseases, drug addiction and risk behaviour
Our fourth major research field is infectious diseases, drug addiction and risk behaviour. Assessment and monitoring of national intervention activities and identification of risk groups are necessary plan future activities for public health and to ensure the effectiveness thereof.
We study the prevalence of HIV among various social classes and age groups, drug addicts, prisoners and prostitutes, and focus on risk behaviour and prevention strategies in these population groups.
We also collect trustworthy data comparable at European level, pertaining to drugs and consequences of drug abuse, prevention work and drug policies, in order to provide an overview for evidence-based decisions.
In the field of diet, we develop the Estonian diet database and conduct or participate in diet surveys. We are also preparing a factual survey on the population's diet, last conducted in 1997.