Current Projects

National Cause-of-Death validation

The Burden of Disease Research Unit is conducting a national study to investigate the cause-of-death information provided on death notifications.

After linking the data collected in the study with the cause-of-death data collected by Statistics South Africa, this project will produce correction factors for the national cause-of death profile. The correction factors will be applied to provincial and district mortality profiles. These are likely to be more accurate than COD profiles currently reported and can be used for planning and monitoring the burden of disease in each district and prioritizing the responses to such burden. Lessons in the use of verbal autopsy questionnaires will inform the possibility of using these for routine collection of cause-of-death statistics.

Medical certification of Cause of Death

A high proportion of deaths are registered in South Africa due to its well-established Civil Registration and Vital Statistics System. However, the quality of the cause of death statistics generated from the death notification forms completed by medical doctors is poor, making it difficult to obtain a reliable cause of death profile.

Online training in medical certification of death for doctorsA free online course for medical students and doctors to learn to correctly complete a medical certificate of cause of death and when to refer to forensic pathology. The beta version can be found at:

 Resource Materials - Medical Certification

Strengthening Mortality Surveillance (SMS) for improved monitoring of HIV/AIDS, TB and COVID-19 in South Africa

Strengthening Mortality Surveillance (SMS) for improved monitoring of HIV/AIDS, TB and COVID-19 in South Africa is a collaborative effort between the SAMRC, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Western Cape Department of Health (WCDoH) and the Swiss Tropical Institute for Public Health (STIPH). The purpose of this project is to respond to a gap in the South African district health information system regarding access to timeous and accurate cause-of-death data. The project will assess the feasibility of implementing telephonic verbal autopsy data collection within a provincial health program and pilot test tools for mortality surveillance to serve the health service and improve the official Civil Registration and Vital Statistics system at a district level. The acceptability of telephonic verbal autopsy interviews will be assessed within a health district and at three South African Population Infrastructure Network (SAPRIN) nodes.

This study is approved by SAMRC Ethics and CDC and awaiting approval from the Western Cape Provincial Health Research Committee.

Information for study participants

Evolving Risk Factors for Cancers in African Populations (ERICA-SA)

Funded by the South African Medical Research Council and the UK Government’s Newton Fund through the UK Medical Research Council, the ERICA-SA project will utilise lifestyle data and biological samples collected by the Johannesburg Cancer Study (JCS) from 20,000 African cancer patients to investigate the causes of cancer and to enhance scientific research capacity in South Africa.

This will be the largest study of its kind in Africa and will support PhD students to work with an international team of geneticists, infectious disease specialists and epidemiologists from the SAMRC, the NHLS National Cancer Registry, the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience (SBIMB) at WITS, King’s College London, the University of Cambridge, the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Germany, the MRC AIDS Virus Research Centre in Uganda, and the University of Sydney, Australia.

Burden of disease information (evaluation and synthesis of data)
Improving population health information
  • South African Demographic and Health Survey
  • Local level mortality surveillance system
  • Population based cancer register in Eastern Cape
  • Evaluation of alcohol policy on violence in Khayelitsha and Nyanga
  • Rapid mortality surveillance
Evaluation of health facility information systems
  • Evaluation of health information systems for National Health Insurance
  • Evaluation of the District Health Information System for PMTCT