Ability of verbal autopsy data to detect deaths due to uncontrolled hyperglycaemia: testing existing methods and development and validation of a novel weighted score

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Sarah Blackstock
  • Miles D Witham
  • Alisha N Wade
  • Amelia Crampin
  • David Beran
  • Graham D Ogle

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Department of Paediatric Rheumatology, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust, London, London, UK.
  • AGE Research Group, NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre, Newcastle University and Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals Trust, Newcastle, UK.
  • MRC/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit, School of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • Malawi Epidemiology and Intervention Research Unit, Malawi Epidemiology and Intervention Research Unit, Lilongwe, Malawi.
  • Division of Tropical and Humanitarian Medicine, University of Geneva and Geneva University Hospitals, Geneva, Switzerland.
  • Life for a Child Program, Diabetes NSW, Glebe, New South Wales, Australia.


OBJECTIVES: Verbal autopsy (VA) is a useful tool to ascertain cause of death where no other mechanisms exist. We aimed to assess the utility of VA data to ascertain deaths due to uncontrolled hyperglycaemia and to develop a weighted score (WS) to specifically identify cases. Cases were identified by a study or site physician with training in diabetes. These diagnoses were also compared with diagnoses produced by a standard computer algorithm (InterVA-4).

SETTING: This study was done using VA data from the Health and Demographic Survey sites in Agincourt in rural South Africa. Validation of the WS was done using VA data from Karonga in Malawi.

PARTICIPANTS: All deaths from ages 1 to 49 years between 1992 and 2015 and between 2002 and 2016 from Agincourt and Karonga, respectively. There were 8699 relevant deaths in Agincourt and 1663 in Karonga.

RESULTS: Of the Agincourt deaths, there were 77 study physician classified cases and 58 computer algorithm classified cases. Agreement between study physician classified cases and computer algorithm classified cases was poor (Cohen's kappa 0.14). Our WS produced a receiver operator curve with area under the curve of 0.952 (95% CI 0.920 to 0.985). However, positive predictive value (PPV) was below 50% when the WS was applied to the development set and the score was dominated by the necessity for a premortem diagnosis of diabetes. Independent validation showed the WS performed reasonably against site physician classified cases with sensitivity of 86%, specificity of 99%, PPV of 60% and negative predictive value of 99%.

CONCLUSION: Our results suggest that widely used VA methodologies may be missing deaths due to uncontrolled hyperglycaemia. Our WS may offer improved ability to detect deaths due to uncontrolled hyperglycaemia in large populations studies where no other means exist.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere026331
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalBMJ open
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 18 Oct 2019


  • diabetes & endocrinology, epidemiology, health informatics

ASJC Scopus subject areas