Verbal Autopsy Methods with Multiple Causes of Death

Gary King, Harvard University
Ying Lu, University of Colorado at Boulder

Verbal autopsy procedures are widely used for estimating cause-specific mortality in areas without medical death certification. Data on symptoms reported by caregivers along with the cause of death are collected from a medical facility, and the cause of death distribution is estimated in the population where only symptom data are available. Current approaches analyze only one cause at a time, involve assumptions judged impossible to satisfy, and require time-consuming or unreliable physician reviews, expert algorithms, or parametric statistical models. By generalizing current approaches to analyze multiple causes, we show how most of the difficult assumptions underlying existing methods can be dropped. These generalizations also make physician review, expert algorithms, and parametric statistical assumptions unnecessary. With theoretical results, and empirical analyses in data from China and Tanzania, we illustrate the accuracy of this approach. As a companion to this paper, we offer easy-to-use software that implements the methods discussed herein.

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Presented in Session 52: Issues in the Measurement of Mortality