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Bull World Health Organ. Mar 2006; 84(3): 204–210.
Published online Mar 22, 2006.
PMCID: PMC2627286

Assessing a new approach to verbal autopsy interpretation in a rural Ethiopian community: the InterVA model.


OBJECTIVE: Verbal autopsy (VA) -- the interviewing of family members or caregivers about the circumstances of a death after the event -- is an established tool in areas where routine death registration is non-existent or inadequate. We assessed the performance of a probabilistic model (InterVA) for interpreting community-based VA interviews, in order to investigate patterns of cause-specific mortality in a rural Ethiopian community. We compared results with those obtained after review of the VA by local physicians, with a view to validating the model as a community-based tool. METHODS: Two-hundred and eighty-nine VA interviews were successfully completed; these included most deaths occurring in a defined community over a 1-year period. The VA interviews were interpreted by physicians and by the model, and cause-specific mortality fractions were derived for the whole community and for particular age groups using both approaches. FINDINGS: The results of the two approaches to interpretation correlated well in this example from Ethiopia. Four major cause groups accounted for over 60% of all mortality, and patterns within specific age groups were consistent with expectations for an underdeveloped high-mortality community in sub-Saharan Africa. CONCLUSION: Compared with interpretation by physicians, the InterVA model is much less labour intensive and offers 100% consistency. It is a valuable new tool for characterizing patterns of cause-specific mortality in communities without death registration and for comparing patterns of mortality in different populations.

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