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Abstract

“Verbal autopsy: innovations, applications, opportunities” is a collection of the most up-to-date research to help decision-makers choose the best and most cost-effective techniques to identify causes of death in their populations. This thematic series, published by Population Health Metrics in August 2011, reports on research that emerged from the “Global Congress on Verbal Autopsy: State of the Science,” held in Bali, Indonesia, in February 2011. The conference was co-sponsored by IHME, the University of Queensland School of Population Health, and Population Health Metrics.

IHME researchers co-authored nine of the 24 published research papers in the series, as well as an editorial. The innovations in verbal autopsy (VA) detailed in these papers represent a substantial increase in knowledge about the comparative performance of various methods to assign causes of death, including a rigorous validation of new automated methods with significant potential for future application in routine national and research data collection platforms.

Identifying the causes of death in a population is critical to inform planning, resource allocation, program implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. Since many countries lack complete vital registration systems with medical certification of deaths, cause of death information is often missing. VA can be used to determine individuals’ causes of death and cause-specific mortality fractions in areas without a vital registration system. A standard VA instrument paired with easy-to-implement and reliable analytic methods could help bridge significant gaps in information about causes of death, particularly in resource-poor settings.