In general, information on the causes of adult deaths in developing countries is scarce. More specifically, relatively little is known about the effect of HIV-1 associated disease on adult mortality in general populations. In this study we have used a verbal autopsy technique to ascertain whether adult deaths were associated with HIV-1 In a rural population with a prevalence of HIV-1 infection of 8%, and used HIV-1 antibody status to validate the verbal autopsy findings.
All adult deaths in the population cohort that occurred between December 1990 and November 1993 were identified through a monthly death registration system. Approximately 2 months after death, a relative of the deceased was interviewed by a trained nurse, and questionnaires were assessed by at least two independent clinicians; all were unaware of the HIV serostatus of the deceased.
A total of 155 adult deaths was assessed, i e. 53% of all recorded adult deaths. Of those assessed half were HIV-1 positive. In all 47% of deaths were classified as HIV-related. The overall specificity and positive predictive value of the verbal autopsy tool were both 92% in those aged 13–44 years (83 adults) the corresponding values were 85% and 95% respectively. The verbal autopsy estimated HIV-1 attributable mortality fraction was similar to the calculated fraction based on prospective data.
The results of this study suggest that verbal autopsy studies may assist in providing data on HIV-associated mortality in general populations and may be useful as surveillance tools.