Reasons for not reporting deaths: a qualitative study in rural Vietnam

World Health Popul. 2007 Jan;9(1):14-23. doi: 10.12927/whp.2007.18739.


This qualitative study explores socio-cultural and health systems factors that may impact on death reporting by lay people to registry systems at the commune level. Information on local perceptions of death and factors influencing death reporting were gathered through nine focus group discussions with people of different religions and ethnic affiliations in a rural district of northern Vietnam. Participants classified deaths as "elderly deaths," "young deaths," and "child deaths." Child deaths, including newborn deaths, used to be considered punishment for sins committed by ancestors, but this is no longer the case. Concepts of the human soul and afterlife differ between the Catholic and Buddhist groups, influencing funeral rituals and reporting, especially of infant deaths. Participants regarded elderly deaths as "natural" and "deserved," while young deaths were seen as either "good deaths" or "bad deaths." "Bad deaths" were defined as deaths of "dishonourable" persons who had led a "bad life" involving activities such as gambling, drinking or stealing. The causes of "bad deaths" and deaths due to stigmatized diseases (e.g., HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and leprosy) were often concealed by the family. The study suggests that the risk of under-reporting deaths seems to be largest for deaths of infants and "bad deaths." Little awareness of regulations and lack of incentives for reporting or lack of sanctions for not reporting deaths also result in under-reporting of deaths. Therefore, education programs and enforcement of legal regulations on death notification should be emphasized. The risk of misreporting the real causes of "bad deaths" and deaths due to stigmatized diseases should be considered in verbal autopsy interviews. Using different sources of information (triangulation) is useful in order to minimize both under-registration and misreporting causes of death.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Attitude to Death / ethnology*
  • Cultural Characteristics*
  • Death Certificates*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Funeral Rites
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prejudice
  • Religion
  • Vietnam / epidemiology