Introduction Statistics on mortality levels and causes of death are essential for health planning. However, at the end of 2003, only 7 of 27 countries in the Western Pacific Region had data available on causes of death. Routine death reporting systems across seven Pacific Island Countries; Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu, are examined. Strengths and limitations common across national systems are identified, and system characteristics related to data availability and quality.
Methods System assessments included key informant interviews, observation of processes, and document review. Findings were grouped according to a framework that classifies system characteristics according to societal issues, the national administrative environment, administration, technical and ownership issues.
Results Routine reporting of deaths is predominantly managed through civil registration systems or within Health departments. Health reporting systems are critical in supporting the civil registration process. Significantly more information is available than currently used. Legislation on death reporting exists for all islands, but does not necessarily reflect current practices. Significant duplication of data collection and entry exists across all systems. The close interaction between health staff and local communities could provide a good foundation for further improvement in death reporting in these countries. Responsibility, authority and ownership were central to the sustainability of the reporting systems.
Conclusion For Pacific Island Countries to effectively address health challenges there is no substitute for routine mortality and cause of death data collections. Suitable systems exist, but need to be strengthened to improve the completeness and quality of the data available.