Verbal Autopsies Help ‘MakeDeathsCount’

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

According to the World Health Organization, almost fifty percent of all deaths are unregistered. Autopsies aren’t performed in these cases, so the causes of these deaths go unrecorded. Ahmad Saleh MPH ’22, Ehsan Abualanain MPH ’22, and Madison Novosel MPH ’23 co-founded MakeDeathsCount (MDC) in response to these findings. What started as a project at the Yale School of Public Health has grown into a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to increasing the amount and accuracy of causes of death (CoD) data globally through the use of verbal autopsies (VAs). 

“In simple terms, a VA is a verbal interview of people close to the deceased about their symptoms to reach the same CoD as a typical autopsy,” Saleh said. “There are many preventable CoDs, but they are only preventable if the CoD is known.” MDC seeks to raise awareness of the insufficiency in the number of registered deaths and support NGOs who can conduct VAs in low- and middle-income countries where unregistered deaths are widespread. They currently work with HIS-Unit, a Syrian NGO, to pilot their first VA mortality surveillance project. Having reached their initial goal of six hundred interviews, MDC can analyze the data and supply mortality reports to the region. 

MDC is the only organization in the world focused on developing mortality surveillance, specifically through the use of VAs. Although the founders remain proud of this fact, it comes with plenty of challenges, and they are always looking for more support. They hope to expand their efforts globally with specific interests in Somalia, Colombia, and India.