Background: Verbal autopsy (VA) can be used to describe leading causes of death in countries like Zambia where vital events registration does not produce usable data. The objectives of this study were to assess the feasibility of using verbal autopsy to determine age-, sex-, and cause-specific mortality in a community-based setting in Zambia and to estimate overall age-, sex-, and cause-specific mortality in the four provinces sampled.
Methods: A dedicated census was conducted in regions of four provinces chosen by cluster-sampling methods in January 2010. Deaths in the 12-month period prior to the census were identified during the census. Subsequently, trained field staff conducted verbal autopsy interviews with caregivers or close relatives of the deceased using structured and unstructured questionnaires. Additional deaths were identified and respondents were interviewed during 12 months of fieldwork. After the interviews, two physicians independently reviewed each VA questionnaire to determine a probable cause of death.
Results: Among the four provinces (1,056 total deaths) assessed, all-cause mortality rate was 17.2 per 1,000 person-years (95% confidence interval [CI]: 12.4, 22). The seven leading causes of death were HIV/AIDS (287, 27%), malaria (111, 10%), injuries and accidents (81, 8%), diseases of the circulatory system (75, 7%), malnutrition (58, 6%), pneumonia (56, 5%), and tuberculosis (50, 5%). Those who died were more likely to be male, have less than or equal to a primary education, and be unmarried, widowed, or divorced compared to the baseline population. Nearly half (49%) of all reported deaths occurred at home.
Conclusions: The 17.2 per 1,000 all-cause mortality rate is somewhat similar to modeled country estimates. The leading causes of death -- HIV/AIDS, malaria, injuries, circulatory diseases, and malnutrition -- reflected causes similar to those reported for the African region and by other countries in the region. Results can enable the targeting of interventions by region, disease, and population to reduce preventable death. Collecting vital statistics using standardized Sample Vital Registration with Verbal Autopsy (SAVVY) methods appears feasible in Zambia. If conducted regularly, these data can be used to evaluate trends in estimated causes of death over time.