Background: Information on adult mortality is essentially non-existent in Ethiopia particularly from rural areas where access to health services is limited and most deaths occur at home. This study was conducted with the aim of identifying causes of adult death in a rural population of Ethiopia using a simplified verbal autopsy instrument.
Methods: All deaths in the age-group 15-49 years during the period of 1995-99 were taken from computerized demographic surveillance database maintained by the Butajira Rural Health Program. Data on the causes of death were collected from close relatives of the deceased persons by lay interviewers. Causes of death were diagnosed using "expert algorithm" programmed onto a computer.
Results: The major causes of death were acute febrile illnesses (25.2%), liver diseases (11.3%), diarrheal diseases (11.1%), tuberculosis (9.7%) and HIV/AIDS (7.4%). Overall communicable diseases accounted for 60.8% of the deaths. The high levels of mortality from communicable diseases reflect the poor socioeconomic development of the country, and the general poor coverage of health and education services in rural Ethiopia. The tools used in this study can easily be added-on to the numerous health surveys conducted in the country.
Conclusion: The simplified approach to verbal autopsy diagnosis can produce useful data that can effectively guide priority health interventions in rural areas where routine information system is either very weak or non-existent.