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Cause of death: where there is no physician

What verbal autopsy is and what it is not

Although the aim of VA is similar to the broader health aim of MCCOD – to ascertain patterns of mortality in the population – it is important to be clear about differences between the two, as shown below.

VA should be viewed as complementary to MCCOD, not as a replacement for it. Therefore, interventions to support and extend MCCOD should continue to be supported, while also promoting VA implementation for those cases in which MCCOD is not possible. 

Verbal autopsy is:

  • The only option available for determining major causes of death in settings without physician certification
  • A method for estimating the fraction of deaths in the population due to major causes of health concern (CSMFs)
  • An approach based on a health rather than a clinical logic to ascertain COD, by way of a structured interview with caregivers of the deceased
  • A method for ascertaining a statistically probable COD at the individual level
  • A means of generating plausible, population-level data on causes of death in the community that can be aggregated into broad ICD codes
  • A stimulus for improving the identification, notification and reporting of deaths in the community.

Verbal autopsy is not:

  • Designed to generate a COD that is legally equivalent to MCCOD at the individual level
  • A replacement for physician-certified COD, which can generate information on causes of death to a high degree of detail
  • Able to generate the detailed COD categories contained in the ICD.

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