World Health & Population

World Health & Population 13(1) August 2011 : 30-39.doi:10.12927/whp.2011.22514

A Qualitative Inquiry into the Application of Verbal Autopsy for a Mortality Surveillance System in a Rural Community of Southern India

Prem K. Mony and Mario Vaz


The aim of this investigation was to identify operational and ethical issues encountered in the application of verbal autopsy (VA) in a rural community in south India. A qualitative study involving semi-structured interviews was conducted with 183 bereaved caregivers in rural Andhra Pradesh, India. Simple descriptive analysis was undertaken. Only 16% of adult deaths and 27% of child deaths occurred in healthcare settings. Healthcare utilization for the terminal illness was reported in two thirds of medical (non-injury) causes of death. Supporting medical evidence was available in <10% of cases to supplement the interpretation of verbal autopsies. About 14% of bereaved caregivers refused to give written consent but provided oral consent. Additional ethical concerns included inability to ensure privacy in 15% of interviews and unsolicited information from unauthorized neighbours in 5% of cases. Such methodological, logistical and ethical issues operate to impact on the quality of VAs. Consideration of these issues would strengthen ongoing efforts in the harmonization of VA procedures.



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