Using health facility deaths to estimate population causes of neonatal and child mortality in four African countries

Henry D. Kalter, Jamie Perin, Jamie Perin, Agbessi Amouzou, Gift Kwamdera, Wasilat Adeyinka Adewemimo, Félicitée Nguefack, Abdoulaye Mamadou Roubanatou, Robert E. Black

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Verbal autopsy is the main method used in countries with weak civil registration systems for estimating community causes of neonatal and 1-59-month-old deaths. However, validation studies of verbal autopsy methods are limited and assessment has been dependent on hospital-based studies, with uncertain implications for its validity in community settings. If the distribution of community deaths by cause was similar to that of facility deaths, or could be adjusted according to related demographic factors, then the causes of facility deaths could be used to estimate population causes. Methods: Causes of neonatal and 1-59-month-old deaths from verbal/social autopsy (VASA) surveys in four African countries were estimated using expert algorithms (EAVA) and physician coding (PCVA). Differences between facility and community deaths in individual causes and cause distributions were examined using chi-square and cause-specific mortality fractions (CSMF) accuracy, respectively. Multinomial logistic regression and random forest models including factors from the VASA studies that are commonly available in Demographic and Health Surveys were built to predict population causes from facility deaths. Results: Levels of facility and community deaths in the four countries differed for one to four of 10 EAVA or PCVA neonatal causes and zero to three of 12 child causes. CSMF accuracy for facility compared to community deaths in the four countries ranged from 0.74 to 0.87 for neonates and 0.85 to 0.95 for 1-59-month-olds. Crude CSMF accuracy in the prediction models averaged 0.86 to 0.88 for neonates and 0.93 for 1-59-month-olds. Adjusted random forest prediction models increased average CSMF accuracy for neonates to, at most, 0.90, based on small increases in all countries. Conclusions: There were few differences in facility and community causes of neonatal and 1-59-month-old deaths in the four countries, and it was possible to project the population CSMF from facility deaths with accuracy greater than the validity of verbal autopsy diagnoses. Confirmation of these findings in additional settings would warrant research into how medical causes of deaths in a representative sample of health facilities can be utilized to estimate the population causes of child death.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number183
JournalBMC medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 12 2020


  • Cause-specific mortality fraction
  • Child mortality
  • Community
  • Health facility
  • Neonatal mortality
  • Verbal autopsy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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