This thesis examines ways of establishing cause of death, assessing trends in mortality, and identifying factors that affect mortality and survival among the different population groups in rural and semi-urban Ethiopia. These data are important for health care planning; however, such vital data are unavailable in many developing countries. The study was conducted in Butajira Rural Health Program Demographic Surveillance Site, Ethiopia, where data collection on vital events and related research has been conducted for the last 20 years. This thesis used a cohort and a case referent study preceded by Focus Group Discussion. It also employed a verbal autopsy procedure to identify causes of death. The cohort component used 18 years of surveillance data (1987-2004). The prospective case referent study, carried out in the years 2003-2005, was used to complement the mortality analysis and focused particularly on issues related to household decision making, social capital, and economic status. The main subgroups included were children under-five years old, adults 15-64, and the elderly 65 years and above. Cause of death was ascertained using the Physicians’ Review and InterVA methods.
Food shortage and epidemics affected the modest downward trend of mortality. There was a general similarity between the Physicians’ Review and InterVA methods in identifying the major causes of death. About 60% of the deaths were due to pneumonia/sepsis, pulmonary tuberculosis, malaria, and diarrhoea disease/malnutrition. The InterVA method was cheaper and more consistent. Higher rates of HIV/AIDS (11%), tuberculosis (18%), and cardiovascular (9%) mortality were noted in urban areas compared to rural areas. Consistent higher mortality was found in rural areas. Women were disadvantaged by residence and advanced age. Place of residence, illiteracy, widowhood, and not owning a house affected men and women differently, indicating a possible need for gender-specific interventions. Children and women survival is affected by household decision-making; this means efforts to improve women’s involvement in household decision-making (women empowerment) might improve child and women survival in poor settings. Many factors that significantly affect mortality can only be controlled by concerted efforts to improve health and overall development.