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Open Access Correspondence

Mortality and cause-of-death reporting and analysis systems in seven pacific island countries

Karen L Carter12*, Chalapati Rao1*, Alan D Lopez1 and Richard Taylor13

Author Affiliations

1 School of Population Health, University of Queensland, Herston, Australia

2 Statistics for Development Programme, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Noumea, New Caledonia

3 School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of New South Wales, New South Wales, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:436  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-436

Published: 13 June 2012

Abstract

Background

Mortality statistics are essential for population health assessment. Despite limitations in data availability, Pacific Island Countries are considered to be in epidemiological transition, with non-communicable diseases increasingly contributing to premature adult mortality. To address rapidly changing health profiles, countries would require mortality statistics from routine death registration given their relatively small population sizes.

Methods

This paper uses a standard analytical framework to examine death registration systems in Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.

Results

In all countries, legislation on death registration exists but does not necessarily reflect current practices. Health departments carry the bulk of responsibility for civil registration functions. Medical cause-of-death certificates are completed for at least hospital deaths in all countries. Overall, significantly more information is available than perceived or used. Use is primarily limited by poor understanding, lack of coordination, limited analytical skills, and insufficient technical resources.

Conclusion

Across the region, both registration and statistics systems need strengthening to improve the availability, completeness, and quality of data. Close interaction between health staff and local communities provides a good foundation for further improvements in death reporting. System strengthening activities must include a focus on clear assignment of responsibility, provision of appropriate authority to perform assigned tasks, and fostering ownership of processes and data to ensure sustained improvements. These human elements need to be embedded in a culture of data sharing and use. Lessons from this multi-country exercise would be applicable in other regions afflicted with similar issues of availability and quality of vital statistics.

Keywords:
Mortality; Death registration; Vital statistics; Cause of death; Pacific islands.