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WHO Mortality Database

:: WHO Mortality Database: Tables

On this web site, the World Health Organization provides data on registered deaths by

  • age group
  • sex
  • year
  • cause of death

From national vital registration systems

The data available on this web site comprise deaths registered in national vital registration systems, with underlying cause of death as coded by the relevant national authority. Underlying cause of death is defined as "the disease or injury which initiated the train of morbid events leading directly to death, or the circumstances of the accident or violence which produced the fatal injury" in accordance with the rules of the International Classification of Diseases.

Historical data from 1979

The mortality data were previously published in the World Health Statistics Annual and the 1996 edition was the last one to appear in printed form. Since then the new data supplied by Member States have been made available online As the demand for information increases, the mortality data with the cause of death coded using the ICD 9th and 10th Revision are now being made available on this site. The tables online follow the same format as that of the previous updates but contain historical data as from 1979 to 2002. This major increase in the number of countries-years available on line will certainly meet the needs of scientists, researchers and public health policy makers. Mortality rates by sex, age group and cause are presented for countries with a population of 500,000 or more. Rates are not computed for data with very low coverage.

Comparability through the use of ICD

Comparability of cause of death data has been made possible world-wide through the development and revisions of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD). The ICD10th revision was adopted in 1990 by the World Health Assembly and came into effect as from 1993. The number of countries submitting their underlying causes of death data to WHO using ICD10th revision has increased from 4 in 1995 to 75 in 2003 and there are still around 40countries reporting data using the 9th revision of ICD. Only countries reporting data properly coded according to the revisions of the ICD are included in the Tables of this web site.

Problems in accuracy of records

Although the International Classification of Diseases is intended to provide a standard way of recording underlying cause of death, comparison of cause of death data over time and across countries should be undertaken with caution. Several new features and changes from ICD9 to ICD10 have great impact on the interpretation of the statistical data. The implications of these changes in ICD10 should be taken into account when making trend comparisons and estimates for causes of death. ICD10 is more detailed with about 10 000 conditions for classifying causes of death compared to around 5 100 in ICD9. The rules for selecting the underlying cause of death have been re-evaluated and sometimes changed.

Accuracy in diagnosing causes of death still varies from one country to another. In addition the process of coding underlying causes of death involves some extent of misattribution or miscoding even in countries where causes are assigned by medically qualified staff. Main reasons are incorrect or systematic biases in diagnosis, incorrect or incomplete death certificates, misinterpretation of ICD rules for selection of the underlying cause, and variations in the use of coding categories for unknown and ill-defined causes.

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