Accurate nationally representative statistics on total and cause-specific mortality in Vietnam are lacking due to incomplete capture in government reporting systems. This paper presents total and cause-specific mortality results from a national verbal autopsy survey conducted first time in Vietnam in conjunction with the annual population change survey and discusses methodological and logistical challenges associated with the implementation of a nation-wide assessment of mortality based on surveys.
Verbal autopsy interviews, using the WHO standard questionnaire, were conducted with close relatives of the 6798 deaths identified in the 2007 population change survey in Vietnam. Data collectors were health staff recruited from the commune health station who undertook 3-day intensive training on VA interview. The Preston-Coale method assessed the level of completeness of mortality reporting from the population change survey. The number of deaths in each age-sex grouping is inflated according to the estimate of completeness to produce an adjusted number of deaths. Underlying causes of death were aggregated to the International Classification of Diseases Mortality Tabulation List 1. Leading causes of death were tabulated by sex for three broad age groups: 0-14 years; 15-59 years; and 60 years and above.
Completeness of mortality reporting was 69% for males and 54% for females with substantial regional variation. The use of VA has resulted in 10% of deaths being classified to ill-defined among males, and 15% among females. More ill-defined deaths were reported among the 60 year or above age group. Incomplete death reporting, wide geographical dispersal of deaths, extensive travel between households, and substantial variation in local responses to VA interviews challenged the implementation of a national mortality and cause of death assessment based on surveys.
Verbal autopsy can be a viable tool to identify cause of death in Vietnam. However logistical challenges limit its use in conjunction with the national sample survey. Sentinel population clusters for mortality surveillance should be tested to develop an effective and sustainable option for routine mortality and cause of death data collection in Vietnam.