Causes of death in Tonga: quality of certification and implications for statistics
1 School of Population Health, University of Queensland, Herston (Brisbane), Queensland, Australia
2 Ministry of Health, Tonga, Australia
3 Western Health, Melbourne, Australia
4 School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of New South Wales, Randwick (Sydney), NSW, Australia
Population Health Metrics 2012, 10:4 doi:10.1186/1478-7954-10-4Published: 5 March 2012
Detailed cause of death data by age group and sex are critical to identify key public health issues and target interventions appropriately. In this study the quality of local routinely collected cause of death data from medical certification is reviewed, and a cause of death profile for Tonga based on amended data is presented.
Medical certificates of death for all deaths in Tonga for 2001 to 2008 and medical records for all deaths in the main island Tongatapu for 2008 were sought from the national hospital. Cause of death data for 2008 were reviewed for quality through (a) a review of current tabulation procedures and (b) a medical record review. Data from each medical record were extracted and provided to an independent medical doctor to assign cause of death, with underlying cause from the medical record tabulated against underlying cause from the medical certificate. Significant associations in reporting patterns were evaluated and final cause of death for each case in 2008 was assigned based on the best quality information from the medical certificate or medical record. Cause of death data from 2001 to 2007 were revised based on findings from the evaluation of certification of the 2008 data and added to the dataset. Proportional mortality was calculated and applied to age- and sex-specific mortality for all causes from 2001 to 2008. Cause of death was tabulated by age group and sex, and age-standardized (all ages) mortality rates for each sex by cause were calculated.
Reported tabulations of cause of death in Tonga are of immediate cause, with ischemic heart disease and diabetes underrepresented. In the majority of cases the reported (immediate) cause fell within the same broad category as the underlying cause of death from the medical certificate. Underlying cause of death from the medical certificate, attributed to neoplasms, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease were assigned to other underlying causes by the medical record review in 70% to 77% of deaths. Of the 28 (6.5%) deaths attributed to nonspecific or unknown causes on the medical certificate, 17 were able to be attributed elsewhere following review of the medical record. Final cause of death tabulations for 2001 to 2008 demonstrate that noncommunicable diseases are leading adult mortality, and age-standardized rates for cardiovascular diseases, neoplasms, and diabetes increased significantly between 2001 to 2004 and 2005 to 2008. Cause of death data for 2001 to 2008 show increasing cause-specific mortality (deaths per 100,000) from 2001-2004 to 2005-2008 from cardiovascular (194-382 to 423-644 in 2005-2008 for males and 108-227 to 194-321 for females) and other noncommunicable diseases that cannot be accounted for by changes in the age structure of the population. Mortality from diabetes for 2005 to 2008 is estimated at 94 to 222 deaths per 100,000 population for males and 98 to 190 for females (based on the range of plausible all-cause mortality estimates) compared with 2008 estimates from the global burden of disease study of 40 (males) and 53 (females) deaths per 100,000 population.
Certification of death was generally found to be the most reliable data on cause of death in Tonga available for Tonga, with 93% of the final assigned causes following review of the 2008 data matching those listed on the medical certificate of death. Cause of death data available in Tonga can be improved by routinely tabulating data by underlying cause and ensuring contributory causes are not recorded in Part I of the certificate during data entry to the database. There is significantly more data on cause of death available in Tonga than are routinely reported or known to international agencies.