Undertaking cause-specific mortality measurement in an unregistered population: an example from Tigray Region, Ethiopia

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Godefay, H
Abrha, A
Kinsman, J
et al
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Background: The lack of adequate documentation of deaths, and particularly their cause, is often noted in African and Asian settings, but practical solutions for addressing the problem are not always clear. Verbal autopsy methods (interviewing witnesses after a death) have developed rapidly, but there remains a lack of clarity as to how these methods can be effectively applied to large unregistered populations. This paper sets out practical details for undertaking a representative survey of cause-specific mortality in a population of several million, taking Tigray Region in Ethiopia as a prototype. Sampling: Sampling was designed around an expected level of maternal mortality ratio of 400 per 100,000 live births, which needed measuring within a 95% confidence interval of approximately 9100. Taking a stratified cluster sample within the region at the district level for logistic reasons, and allowing for a design effect of 2, this required a population of around 900,000 people, equating to six typical districts. Since the region is administered in six geographic zones, one district per zone was randomly selected. Implementation: The survey was implemented as a two-stage process: first, to trace deaths that occurred in the sampled districts within the preceding year, and second to follow them up with verbal autopsy interviews. The field work for both stages was undertaken by health extension workers, working in their normally assigned areas. Most of the work was associated with tracing the deaths, rather than undertaking the verbal autopsy interviews. Discussion: This approach to measuring cause-specific mortality in an unregistered Ethiopian population proved to be feasible and effective. Although it falls short of the ideal situation of continuous civil registration and vital statistics, a survey-based strategy of this kind may prove to be a useful intermediate step on the road towards full civil registration and vital statistics implementation.
Cause of Death , Maternal Mortality , Ethiopia/epidemiology
Godefay, H., Abrha, A., Kinsman, J., et al. Undertaking cause-specific mortality measurement in an unregistered population: an example from Tigray Region, Ethiopia. Global health action; 7:25264