Causes of deaths in neonates and children aged 1–59 months in Nigeria: verbal autopsy findings of 2019 Verbal and Social Autopsy study

Adeyinka Odejimi, John Quinley, George Ikechi Eluwa, Michael Kunnuji, Robinson Daniel Wammanda, William Weiss, Femi James, Mustapha Bello, Adenike Ogunlewe, Rebekah King, Ana Claudia Franca-Koh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Nigeria has one of the highest under-five mortality rates in the world. Identifying the causes of these deaths is crucial to inform changes in policy documents, design and implementation of appropriate interventions to reduce these deaths. This study aimed to provide national and zonal-level estimates of the causes of under-five death in Nigeria in the 2013–2018 periods. Methods: We conducted retrospective inquiries into the cause of deaths of 948 neonates and 2,127 children aged 1–59 months as identified in the 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS). The verbal autopsy asked about signs and symptoms during the final illness. The Physician Coded Verbal Autopsy (PCVA) and Expert Algorithm Verbal Autopsy (EAVA) methods were employed to assign the immediate and underlying cause of deaths to all cases. Result: For the analysis, sampling weights were applied to accommodate non-proportional allocation. Boys accounted for 56 percent of neonatal deaths and 51.5 percent of the 1–59-months old deaths. About one-quarter of under-5 mortality was attributed to neonatal deaths, and 50 percent of these neonatal deaths were recorded within 48 h of delivery. Overall, 84 percent of the under-5 deaths were in the northern geopolitical zones. Based on the two methods for case analysis, neonatal infections (sepsis, pneumonia, and meningitis) were responsible for 44 percent of the neonatal deaths, followed by intrapartum injury (PCVA: 21 percent vs. EAVA: 29 percent). The three main causes of death in children aged 1–59 months were malaria (PCVA: 23 percent vs. EAVA: 35 percent), diarrhoea (PCVA: 17 percent vs. EAVA: 23 percent), and pneumonia (PCVA: 10 percent vs. EAVA: 12 percent). In the North West, where the majority of under-5 (1–59 months) deaths were recorded, diarrhoea was the main cause of death (PCVA: 24.3 percent vs. EAVA: 30 percent). Conclusion: The causes of neonatal and children aged 1–59 months deaths vary across the northern and southern regions. By homing on the specific causes of mortality by region, the study provides crucial information that may be useful in planning appropriately tailored interventions to significantly reduce under-five deaths in Nigeria.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1130
JournalBMC public health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Cause distribution
  • Child health
  • Neonatal
  • Under-five mortality
  • Verbal autopsy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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