What is it about?

In most low and middle-income countries, many deaths occur at home and are not reported. This gap can be bridged using Verbal Autopsy (VA) where an interview is undertaken with the caregiver of the deceased who was present during the period of illness. A cause of death is then assigned using computer algorithms or by physicians. In this study, we conducted VAs for deaths of children under-five in two regions of the Gambia (URR and CRR) and ascertained the causes of death, socio-demographic patterns and contextual factors that may have contributed to their untimely demise. We found that as many as half of deaths occurred at home. Also, acute respiratory infections including pneumonia and malnutrition contributed the most to the deaths in the study area.

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Why is it important?

Our study bridges an important gap by ensuring that almost all deaths are captured, and the causes of deaths determined even in countries with weak Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Systems. Applying and integrating verbal autopsy methods in national mortality programs will ensure that complete data is available for policymakers in tracking progress and making informed decisions.


With half of deaths occurring at home in low- and middle-income countries, considerations should be made to incorporate verbal autopsy methods into national Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Systems to ensure that every death is captured, and the cause of death determined. We hope that this study will call attention to this important area and that it would stimulate more research in developing and validating verbal autopsy tools.

Baleng Mahama Wutor
Medical Research Council Unit The Gambia at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Verbal autopsy analysis of childhood deaths in rural Gambia, PLoS ONE, July 2023, PLOS,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0277377.
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