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Open Access Open Badges Commentary

Verbal autopsy: who needs it?

Carla AbouZahr

Author Affiliations

Health Metrics Network, World Health Organization, Ave Appia, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland

Population Health Metrics 2011, 9:19  doi:10.1186/1478-7954-9-19

Published: 27 July 2011

First paragraph (this article has no abstract)

Verbal autopsy has long been used to generate mortality data, often with the needs of specific programs, such as child and maternal mortality, in mind [1,2]. This led to a proliferation of instruments and the resulting data were rarely comparable across research sites or over time [3]. Demands for standardization led to the 2007 publication of the World Health Organization (WHO) verbal autopsy standards, which many researchers have adopted [4,5]. Increased convergence around standards has stimulated interest in using verbal autopsy outside research settings on a routine basis. Decision-makers, program managers, donors, and development partners have identified the need for simple data collection instruments, implemented using mobile phones or other hand-held devices and linked to the provision of care [6]. These potential users of verbal autopsy methods have different perspectives from researchers, tending to prioritize instrument simplicity, feasibility, and program relevance above technical performance. Verbal autopsy offers a solution to the challenge of generating cause of death information in settings where deaths occur outside the health care system.