Verbal autopsy: innovations, applications, opportunities - Improving cause of death measurement
Identifying the causes of death in a population is critical to inform planning, resource allocation, program implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. Since many countries lack complete vital registration systems with medical certification of deaths, cause of death information is often missing. Verbal autopsy (VA) can be used to determine individuals' causes of death and cause-specific mortality fractions in areas without a vital registration system. A standard VA instrument paired with easy-to-implement and reliable analytic methods could help bridge significant gaps in information about causes of death, particularly in resource-poor settings. What has been missing from the VA field is a collection of the most up-to-date research to help decision-makers choose the best and most cost-effective techniques to identify causes of death in their populations. This thematic series, “Verbal autopsy: innovations, applications, opportunities,” was developed in response to this need. The research published in this series emerged from the “Global Congress on Verbal Autopsy: State of the Science,” held in Bali, Indonesia, in February 2011. The conference was co-sponsored by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the University of Queensland School of Population Health, and Population Health Metrics. The innovations in VA detailed in these papers represent a substantial increase in knowledge about the comparative performance of various methods to assign causes of death, from applications of methods used in current practice, including physician review, to a rigorous validation of new automated methods with significant potential for future application in routine national and research data collection platforms. We expect that this thematic series of Population Health Metrics will provide an opportunity for informed discussion and debate and hopefully will stimulate the widespread application of VA where it is needed.