BACKGROUND: Cause-specific mortality statistics remain scarce for the majority of low-income countries, where the highest disease burdens are experienced. Neither facility-based information systems nor vital registration provide adequate or representative data. The expansion of sample vital registration with verbal autopsy procedures represents the most promising interim solution for this problem. The development and validation of core verbal autopsy forms and suitable coding and tabulation procedures are an essential first step to extending the benefits of this method.
METHODS AND FINDINGS: Core forms for peri- and neonatal, child, and adult deaths were developed and revised over 12 y through a project of the Tanzanian Ministry of Health and were applied to over 50,000 deaths. The contents of the core forms draw upon and are generally comparable with previously proposed verbal autopsy procedures. The core forms and coding procedures based on the International Statistical Classification of Diseases (ICD) were further adapted for use in China. These forms, the ICD tabulation list, the summary validation protocol, and the summary validation results from Tanzania and China are presented here.
CONCLUSIONS: The procedures are capable of providing reasonable mortality estimates as adjudged against stated performance criteria for several common causes of death in two countries with radically different cause structures of mortality. However, the specific causes for which the procedures perform well varied between the two settings because of differences in the underlying prevalence of the main causes of death. These differences serve to emphasize the need to undertake validation studies of verbal autopsy procedures when they are applied in new epidemiological settings.
PLoS Medicine (2006) 3 (8): e268