Reliable and comparable data on the levels and causes of mortality are cornerstones for building a solid evidence base for health policy, planning, monitoring and evaluation. Ideally, causes of death are reported by a physician using the standard medical certificate of cause of death. However, in some settings, no physician sees the dead in order to formulate and report the medically certified cause of death. For such settings, verbal autopsy (VA) can be used to obtain the most probable cause of death for such cases.
In VA, the cause of a death is ascertained based on an interview with the next of kin or other caregivers. The interview is done using a standardized questionnaire that elicits information on signs, symptoms, medical history and circumstances preceding death. The cause of death, or the sequence of causes that led to death, are assigned based on the data collected using the VA questionnaire and any other available information. Data collected using the VA questionnaire are interpreted by applying the clinical opinion of physicians or by a computer algorithm to determine the cause of death.
The primary objective of VA is to describe the pattern of causes of death that occur outside of medical care at the population level. As such, VA has become an essential public health tool for obtaining a reasonable estimation of cause specific mortality fractions for deaths without medical certification of the cause of death.
The latest release of the WHO VA standard questionnaire can be found on the official WHO VA standards webpage.
The WHO Collaborating Centre for Verbal Autopsy is aligned with the WHO-FIC Network strategic plan.
More information on the CC are available on the online WHO database specifically in the SWI-83 VA centre page.
The WHO Collaborating Centre is based in the Household Economics and Health Systems Research Unit, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Swiss TPH.