Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Making COD statistics useful for public health at local level in the City of Cape Town

Debbie Bradshaw, Pamela Groenewald, David E Bourne, Hassan Mahomed, Beatrice Nojilana, Johan Daniels, & Jo Nixon

ABSTRACT

OBJECTIVE

To review the quality of the coding of the cause of death (COD) statistics and assess the mortality information needs of the City of Cape Town.

METHODS

Using an action research approach, a study was set up to investigate the quality of COD information, the accuracy of COD coding and consistency of coding practices in the larger health subdistricts. Mortality information needs and the best way of presenting the statistics to assist health managers were explored.

FINDINGS

Useful information was contained in 75% of death certificates, but nearly 60% had only a single cause certified; 55% of forms were coded accurately. Disagreement was mainly because routine coders coded the immediate instead of the underlying COD. An abridged classification of COD, based on causes of public health importance, prevalent causes and selected combinations of diseases was implemented with training on underlying cause. Analysis of the 2001 data identified the leading causes of death and premature mortality and illustrated striking differences in the disease burden and profile between health subdistricts.

CONCLUSION

Action research is particularly useful for improving information systems and revealed the need to standardize the coding practice to identify underlying cause. The specificity of the full ICD classification is beyond the level of detail on the death certificates currently available. An abridged classification for coding provides a practical tool appropriate for local level public health surveillance. Attention to the presentation of COD statistics is important to enable the data to inform decision-makers.

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