Photo of a student conducting verbal autopsy interviews in Nepal
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GO Health Fellowship student Nicole Ide conducting verbal autopsy interviews in Dhulikhel, Nepal in 2014. Photo credit: Nicole Ide
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By Andrew Trounson

In rural Myanmar, the local midwife is at your side at the start and end of your life.

Not only is she responsible for delivering babies and registering them, she is also responsible for registering deaths and cause of death. And it’s all done the old-fashioned way, using scribbled notes that are sent back to the bureaucrats on bicycles or by mail.

It hardly makes for a foolproof system producing accurate records, especially for deaths. Midwives are understandably more expert at looking after the newly born rather than assessing the causes of the newly dead. As a result, over half of the deaths recorded in the country have no doctor-certified cause. That leaves health services and policy makers with no accurate idea of what is killing people, and no reliable data on which to prioritise healthcare spending and prevention.

But a basic bit of technology – a computer tablet - and an algorithm that can accurately diagnose the cause of death without the expertise of a doctor, is now revolutionising the collection of death data in Myanmar.

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The SmartVA verbal autopsy tool described in this story was developed by the UW Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, together with researchers at the University of Melbourne. 

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