There exist a huge gap between generation of evidence-based research findings and its use to inform policies in most developing countries. Further, it is evident that most developing countries are lagging behind in formulating appropriate policies aimed at improving people’s lives due to lack of evidence-based research findings. We describe the potential of a Health and Demographic Surveillance System (HDSS) in informing appropriate health interventions towards reducing the high maternal and child deaths in rural communities of north western Nigeria through the Verbal Autopsy (VA) data collection. VA data collection involves the use of VA questionnaires—set of open ended and closed ended questions adapted from the World Health Organization (WHO) module— administered to the caregivers, parents or family members of a deceased person to elicit information on signs and symptoms and their durations, and other pertinent information about the deceased in the period before death. VA interviews were conducted by trained VA enumerators on all 2100 deaths reported during the update round 4 of routine data collection (July-December, 2012) and returned forms were checked for consistencies and completeness by a trained research officer. The forms were later coded by trained medical doctors for possible cause of death using the WHO International Classification of Diseases (ICD 10) codes. Fifty cases of neonatal deaths, 1650 cases of infant and child deaths, and 400 cases of adult deaths were reported during the update round 4 data collection. Neonatal sepsis was reported as the leading cause of neonatal deaths (58%) while malaria and intestinal infectious diseases were reported as the leading cause of infant and child deaths and adult deaths respectively (45% and 17%, respectively). The study provides documented evidence of high neonatal deaths due to neonatal sepsis in an area with low hygiene and high home delivery rates. The findings from the VA data collection at Nahuche HDSS inform the intervention study on home distribution of chlorhexidine to pregnant women. The findings from this study call on government and other stakeholders to strengthen research capacity to generate timely data and findings returned to policy makers within the shortest period of time for decision making.
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