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BACKGROUND: The verbal autopsy (VA) is used to collect information on cause-specific mortality from bereaved relatives. A cause of death may be assigned by physician review of the questionnaires, or by an algorithm. We compared the diagnostic accuracy of physician review, an expert algorithm, and data-derived algorithms. METHODS: Data were drawn from a multicentre validation study of 796 adult deaths that occurred in hospitals in Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Ghana. A 'gold standard' cause of death was assigned using hospital records and death certificates. The VA interviews were carried out by trained fieldworkers 1-21 months after the subject's death. A cause of death was assigned by physician review and an expert algorithm. Data-derived algorithms that most accurately estimated the cause-specific mortality fraction (CSMF) for each cause of death were identified using logistic regression. RESULTS: The most common causes of death were tuberculosis/AIDS (CSMF = 18.6%), malaria (CSMF = 10.7%), meningitis (CSMF = 8.3%), and cardiovascular disorders (CSMF = 8.2%). The CSMF obtained using physician review was within +/-20% of the gold standard value for 12 causes of death including the four common causes. The CSMF obtained using the expert algorithm was within +/-20% of the gold standard for eight causes of death, including tuberculosis/AIDS, malaria, and meningitis. The CSMF obtained using the data-derived algorithms was within +/-20% of the gold standard for seven causes of death, including tuberculosis/ AIDS, meningitis, and cardiovascular disorders. All three methods yielded a specificity of at least 80% for all causes of death, and a sensitivity of at least 80% for deaths due to injuries and rabies. CONCLUSIONS: For those settings where physician review is not feasible, expert and data-derived algorithms provide an alternative approach for assigning many causes of death. We recommend that the algorithms proposed herein are validated further.

Type

Journal article

Journal

Int J Epidemiol

Publication Date

12/1999

Volume

28

Pages

1081 - 1087

Keywords

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, Adult, Algorithms, Autopsy, Cardiovascular Diseases, Cause of Death, Ethiopia, Ghana, Humans, Malaria, Meningitis, Middle Aged, Reproducibility of Results, Sensitivity and Specificity, Tanzania, Tuberculosis, Wounds and Injuries