the causes of two thirds of the world’s deaths are not recorded and the World
Health Organization (WHO) receives reliable cause of death statistics from only
31 of its 193 member states. This lack of knowledge about mortality patterns is
not only a concern for academic population health scientists: national and
local health managers also recognise that this information deficit impacts on
their ability to plan and evaluate public health interventions and prioritise
Verbal autopsy (VA) involves interviewing relatives of the deceased
to identify the probable cause of death and is typically used in settings where
there is no official system for recording deaths or their causes. The VA
process can take several years to complete and WHO recognizes that there is a
pressing need for a mobile device that combines direct data capture and
analysis if this technique is to become part of routine health surveillance.
Jon Bird (UCL Interaction Centre) in collaboration with Ed Fottrell (Centre for International Health and Development) developed VA software for mobile phones that meets WHO requirements and conducted a successful field test in rural South Africa.