Strengthening community-based vital events reporting for real-time monitoring of under-five mortality: Lessons learned from the Balaka and Salima districts in Malawi

Olga Joos, Agbessi Amouzou, Romesh Silva, Benjamin Banda, Lois Park, Jennifer Bryce, Mercy Kanyuka, Gunther Baugh, Elizabeth Hazel, Martina Chimzimu, Kingsley Lajia, Roberta Makoko, Tiope Mleme

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background. Malawi ratified a compulsory birth and death registration system in 2009. Until it captures complete coverage of vital events, Malawi relies on other data sources to calculate mortality estimates. We tested a community-based method to estimate annual under-five mortality rates (U5MR) through the Real-Time Monitoring of Under-Five Mortality (RMM) project in Malawi. We implemented RMM in two phases, and conducted an independent evaluation of phase one after 21 months of implementation. We present results of the phase two validation that covers the full project time span, and compare the results to those of the phase one validation. Methods and Findings. We assessed the completeness of the counts of births and deaths and the accuracy of disaggregated U5MR from the community-based method against a retrospective full pregnancy history for rolling twelve-month periods after the independent evaluation. We used full pregnancy histories collected through household interviews carried out between November 2013 and January 2014 as the validation data source. Health Surveillance Agents (HSAs) across the 160 catchment areas submitted routine reports on pregnancies, births, and deaths consistently. However, for the 15-month implementation period postevaluation, average completeness of birth event reporting was 76%, whereas average completeness of death event reporting was 67% relative to that expected from a comparable pregnancy history. HSAs underestimated the U5MR by an average of 21% relative to that estimated from a comparable pregnancy history. Conclusions. On a medium scale, the community-based RMM method in Malawi produced substantial underestimates of annualized U5MR relative to those obtained from a full pregnancy history, despite the additional incentives and quality-control activities. We were not able to achieve an optimum level of incentive and support to make the system work while ensuring sustainability. Lessons learned from the implementation of RMM can inform programs supporting community-based interventions through HSAs in Malawi.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0138406
JournalPloS one
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 11 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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