Validity of verbal autopsy procedures for determining cause of death in Tanzania

Trop Med Int Health. 2006 May;11(5):681-96. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3156.2006.01603.x.


Objectives: To validate verbal autopsy (VA) procedures for use in sample vital registration. Verbal autopsy is an important method for deriving cause-specific mortality estimates where disease burdens are greatest and routine cause-specific mortality data do not exist.

Methods: Verbal autopsies and medical records (MR) were collected for 3123 deaths in the perinatal/neonatal period, post-neonatal <5 age group, and for ages of 5 years and over in Tanzania. Causes of death were assigned by physician panels using the International Classification of Disease, revision 10. Validity was measured by: cause-specific mortality fractions (CSMF); sensitivity; specificity and positive predictive value. Medical record diagnoses were scored for degree of uncertainty, and sensitivity and specificity adjusted. Criteria for evaluating VA performance in generating true proportional mortality were applied.

Results: Verbal autopsy produced accurate CSMFs for nine causes in different age groups: birth asphyxia; intrauterine complications; pneumonia; HIV/AIDS; malaria (adults); tuberculosis; cerebrovascular diseases; injuries and direct maternal causes. Results for 20 other causes approached the threshold for good performance.

Conclusions: Verbal autopsy reliably estimated CSMFs for diseases of public health importance in all age groups. Further validation is needed to assess reasons for lack of positive results for some conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Autopsy / methods*
  • Cause of Death*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • HIV Infections / mortality
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Mortality*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / mortality
  • Medical Records
  • Sentinel Surveillance
  • Tanzania