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Wits honorary professor Peter Byass heads new WHO Collaborating Centre
Issued by: Wits University  
[Johannesburg, 16 November 2012]

Wits honorary professor Peter Byass heads up the newly established Collaborating Centre at Umeć University, Sweden, in the specialist area of verbal autopsy (VA). The Centre is an initiative by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

VA is a widely used method in low- and middle-income countries for determining cause of death, when no doctor’s certificate is available. It involves interviewing relatives or friends after a death has occurred, collecting data that can then be interpreted into likely causes of death. Work based at the Umeć Centre for Global Health Research has placed Umeć at the global forefront of research and development in VA methods, now recognised in the creation of the new WHO Collaborating Centre.

In particular, the Umeć group has developed the InterVA suite of probabilistic models for reliably determining causes of death without needing doctors’ time and expertise. This means that cause-specific mortality data can be made available much more quickly and cheaply. The work has involved considerable global collaboration, not only with the WHO, but also with the University of the Witwatersrand, the INDEPTH Network, the University of Aberdeen, and the University College London, among others. Latest innovations include the development of a smartphone application, which guides the VA interview process according to WHO guidelines and directly determines cause of death.

“Not everyone realises that reliably determining causes of death is an important strategy for saving lives! Health services can only be well-planned and managed if there is evidence about common causes of death in the populations they serve,” said Byass, Director of the new Collaborating Centre, also Professor of Global Health and Honorary Professor at the University of Aberdeen.

Prof. Lars Weinehall, Head of Public Health and Clinical Medicine at Umeć University, said: “We are delighted to have been designated as the new WHO Collaborating Centre for Verbal Autopsy. It reflects the world-leading calibre of our research on VA and we are excited about working with the WHO globally to make a difference in population health. This will contribute directly to the WHO’s plans for Universal Health Coverage.”

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