How useful are verbal autopsies to estimate childhood causes of death?

Snow RW, Marsh K
Health Policy and Planning. 1992;7

Permenent descriptor

Verbal autopsies (VAs) are widely used to describe causes of death in individuals who die outside hospital or clinic settings. However, they have received surprisingly little validation. The technique assumes that diseases which cause death can be readily distinguished from one another by distinct syndromes, and that these can be reported accurately by lay respondents. This paper describes the potential problems of syndrome definition and the likely biases introduced through poor recognition and recall by bereaved relatives; how these may be tested; and finally, what can be done where the VA proves unable to identify cause of death.