Identifying the causes of death in a population is necessary to inform planning, resource allocation, and for the implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of programs that address these causes of death. Unfortunately many countries lack complete vital registration systems with medical certification of deaths and as such the cause of death information is often missing. However, verbal autopsy can be used to determine individuals’ causes of death in resource-poor settings and can help to bridge the significant gaps in information.
A recent thematic series published in Population Health Metrics "Verbal autopsy: innovations, applications, opportunities – Improving cause of death measurement" provides a collection of the most up-to-date research to help decision-makers choose the best and most cost-effective techniques to identify causes of death in their populations. The research published in this series emerged from the "Global Congress on Verbal Autopsy: State of the Science", held in Bali, Indonesia, in February 2011.
The innovations in verbal autopsy detailed in these articles represent a substantial increase in knowledge about the comparative performance of the various methods to assign causes of death. The articles range from descriptions of the applications of methods used in current practice (including physician review), to a rigorous validation of new automated methods that have significant potential for future application in the routine national and research data collection. This thematic series, which is edited by Alan D Lopez (University of Queensland School of Population Health, Australia), Rafael Lozano and Christopher JL Murray (Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington, USA), and Kenji Shibuya (Global Health Policy, University of Tokyo, Japan), provides an opportunity for informed discussion and debate and will hopefully stimulate the widespread application of verbal autopsy where it is needed.