Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Compiling mortality statistics from civil registration systems in Viet Nam: the long road ahead

Chalapati Rao, Brigitta Osterberger, Tran Dam Anh, Malcolm MacDonald, Nguyen Thi Kim Chúc & Peter S Hill

Accurate mortality statistics, needed for population health assessment, health policy and research, are best derived from data in vital registration systems. However, mortality statistics from vital registration systems are not available for several countries including Viet Nam. We used a mixed methods case study approach to assess vital registration operations in 2006 in three provinces in Viet Nam (Hòa Bình, Thùa Thiên–Hué and Bình Duong), and provide recommendations to strengthen vital registration systems in the country. For each province we developed life tables from population and mortality data compiled by sex and age group. Demographic methods were used to estimate completeness of death registration as an indicator of vital registration performance. Qualitative methods (document review, key informant interviews and focus group discussions) were used to assess administrative, technical and societal aspects of vital registration systems. Completeness of death registration was low in all three provinces. Problems were identified with the legal framework for registration of early neonatal deaths and deaths of temporary residents or migrants. The system does not conform to international standards for reporting cause of death or for recording detailed statistics by age, sex and cause of death. Capacity-building along with an intersectoral coordination committee involving the Ministries of Justice and Health and the General Statistics Office would improve the vital registration system, especially with regard to procedures for death registration. There appears to be strong political support for sentinel surveillance systems to generate reliable mortality statistics in Viet Nam.