Background: Road traffic injuries (RTIs) are among the leading causes of mortality in Vietnam. However, mortality data collection systems in Vietnam in general and for RTIs in particular, remain inconsistent and incomplete. Underlying distributions of external causes and body injuries are not available from routine data collection systems or from studies till date. This paper presents characteristics, user type pattern, seasonal distribution, and causes of 1,061 deaths attributable to road crashes ascertained from a national sample mortality surveillance system in Vietnam over a two-year period (2008 and 2009).
Methods: A sample mortality surveillance system was designed for Vietnam, comprising 192 communes in 16 provinces, accounting for approximately 3% of the Vietnamese population. Deaths were identified from commune level data sources, and followed up by verbal autopsy (VA) based ascertainment of cause of death. Age-standardised mortality rates from RTIs were computed. VA questionnaires were analysed in depth to derive descriptive characteristics of RTI deaths in the sample.
Results: The age-standardized mortality rates from RTIs were 33.5 and 8.5 per 100,000 for males and females respectively. Majority of deaths were males (79%). Seventy three percent of all deaths were aged from 15 to 49 years and 58% were motorcycle users. As high as 80% of deaths occurred on the day of injury, 42% occurred prior to arrival at hospital, and a further 29% occurred on-site. Direct causes of death were identified for 446 deaths (42%) with head injuries being the most common cause attributable to road traffic injuries overall (79%) and to motorcycle crashes in particular (78%).
Conclusion: The VA method can provide a useful data source to analyse RTI mortality. The observed considerable mortality from head injuries among motorcycle users highlights the need to evaluate current practice and effectiveness of motorcycle helmet use in Vietnam. The high number of deaths occurring on-site or prior to hospital admission indicates a need for effective pre-hospital first aid services and timely access to emergency facilities. In the absence of standardised death certification, sustained efforts are needed to strengthen mortality surveillance sites supplemented by VA to support evidence based monitoring and control of RTI mortality.