Nav: Home

Verbal autopsies capture more accurate burden of disease in Uganda

February 13, 2019

Chapel Hill, NC - Training community health workers to perform verbal autopsy interviews captured more accurate and complete data about the number and causes of deaths in a rural sub-county of Uganda than current health facility-dependent surveillance methods, according to researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and their in-country partners. These results were published in PLOS ONE.

"Overall, our results show that in rural areas of Uganda, and likely much of sub-Saharan Africa, people are dying and policymakers are unaware," said Ross Boyce, M.D., M.Sc., the study's senior author and an assistant professor of medicine in the UNC Division of Infectious Diseases. "This has been called a 'scandal of invisibility' and touches on important issues of social justice and rural/urban divides."

Traditionally, only the deaths of people who die at a health facility are reported through a health facility-based health management information system (HMIS) in Uganda. Yet, Boyce says many people living in rural areas never make it to health facilities. And furthermore, patient registration at these health facilities can be incomplete and inaccurate, further compounding the problem of effective disease reporting.

This study focused on the 36 villages in the Bugoye sub-county of western Uganda, where the catchment population is 46,000. Community health workers conducted a survey to identify households where someone had died within the past year. The community health workers were trained to interview the next-of-kin using the World Health Organization's (WHO) 2014 verbal autopsy questionnaire, which helps determine the cause of death based on the symptoms present at the time of death.

Community health workers identified 230 deaths in the Bugoye sub-county. Seventy-seven of these deaths, or 34 percent, were among children under the age of 5. More than half of the 230 deaths, occurred outside of a health facility. And while the remaining 107 people died in a health facility, 73 of them, or 69 percent, were not recorded in the HMIS. The leading causes of death as estimated from the verbal autopsies for adults were HIV/AIDS, pulmonary tuberculosis and malaria. Malaria, pre-mature birth and neonatal pneumonia were the primary causes of death among children.

"While we expected these primary causes of death, what was really surprising was the scale of underreporting," said Doreen Nabukalu, M.P.H., the study's author from Mbarara University of Science and Technology's Department of Community Health in Mbarara, Uganda. "We found more than 50 percent of deaths occurred at home. The civil registration system in many rural parts of Uganda is nonfunctional, meaning deaths that occur outside a health facility setting are never reported. And then among the people who did make it to a health facility, poor record-keeping management prevented accurate vital statistics of these deaths as well. This underreporting has real implications for disease surveillance and treatment."

Based on the accuracy and increased numbers of records obtained through verbal autopsies conducted by community health workers, Boyce said the study team has submitted a grant to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Fogarty International Center. This funding would be used to supply community health workers with smartphones to register births and deaths in real time. The goal is to continue this cost-effective method of health reporting, which can then be used to design public health interventions, educate Ugandan policymakers and stop deadly outbreaks.

"Empowering community health workers to conduct verbal autopsies within their communities on a routine basis is a cost-effective and sustainable way to improve the quality and availability of mortality data," said Nabukalu. "This approach will also strengthen the disease surveillance programs at the community-level, especially in rural areas."
-end-
The study team included researchers from the UNC Division of Infectious Diseases and its Division of General Medicine & Clinical Epidemiology. In-country partners included Mbarara University of Science and Technology's Department of Community Health and the Wakiso District Local Government's Department of Health in Kampala, Uganda. Investigators from the Center for International Child Health at British Columbia's Children's Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, and the Department of Emergency Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York were also involved in this study. The Joint AFRO/TDR Small Grants Scheme for Implementation Research in Infectious Diseases of Poverty funded this research.

The mission of UNC's Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases is to harness the full resources of the University and its partners to solve global health problems, reduce the burden of disease, and cultivate the next generation of global health leaders. Learn more at http://www.globalhealth.unc.edu.

University of North Carolina Health Care

Related Health Articles:

Public health guidelines aim to lower health risks of cannabis use
Canada's Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines, released today with the endorsement of key medical and public health organizations, provide 10 science-based recommendations to enable cannabis users to reduce their health risks.
Generous health insurance plans encourage overtreatment, but may not improve health
Offering comprehensive health insurance plans with low deductibles and co-pay in exchange for higher annual premiums seems like a good value for the risk averse, and a profitable product for insurance companies.
The Lancet Planetary Health: Food, climate, greenhouse gas emissions and health
Increasing temperatures, water scarcity, availability of agricultural land, biodiversity loss and climate change threaten to reverse health gains seen over the last century.
With health insurance at risk, community health centers face cut-backs
Repeal of key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, combined with a failure to renew critical funding streams, would result in catastrophic funding losses for community health centers-forcing these safety net providers to cut back on services, lay off staff or shut down clinical sites, according to a report published today.
Study clusters health behavior groups to broaden public health interventions
A new study led by a University of Kansas researcher has used national health statistics and identified how to cluster seven health behavior groups based on smoking status, alcohol use, physical activity, physician visits and flu vaccination are associated with mortality.
Tailored preventive oral health intervention improves dental health among elderly
A tailored preventive oral health intervention significantly improved the cleanliness of teeth and dentures among elderly home care clients.
Study finds that people are attracted to outward signs of health, not actual health
Findings published in the journal Behavioral Ecology reveal that skin with yellow and red pigments is perceived as more attractive in Caucasian males, but this skin coloring does not necessarily signal actual good health.
In the January Health Affairs: Brazil's primary health care expansion
The January issue of Health Affairs includes a study that explores a much-discussed issue in global health: the role of governance in improving health, which is widely recognized as necessary but is difficult to tie to actual outcomes.
University of Rochester and West Health Collaborate on d.health Summit 2017
In collaboration with West Health, the University of Rochester is hosting the third annual d.health Summit, a forum for health care and technology leaders, entrepreneurs, senior care advocates and policymakers to exchange ideas, create new partnerships, and foster disruptive technological and process innovations to improve the lives of the nation's aging population.
Study links health literacy to higher levels of health insurance coverage
The federal Affordable Care Act is intended to make it easier for individuals to buy health insurance, but are the uninsured equipped to navigate the choices faced in the insurance marketplace?

Related Health Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#529 Do You Really Want to Find Out Who's Your Daddy?
At least some of you by now have probably spit into a tube and mailed it off to find out who your closest relatives are, where you might be from, and what terrible diseases might await you. But what exactly did you find out? And what did you give away? In this live panel at Awesome Con we bring in science writer Tina Saey to talk about all her DNA testing, and bioethicist Debra Mathews, to determine whether Tina should have done it at all. Related links: What FamilyTreeDNA sharing genetic data with police means for you Crime solvers embraced...