Cause of death

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Science  27 Mar 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6229, pp. 1410-1413
DOI: 10.1126/science.347.6229.1410

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As startling as it sounds, health experts don't really know what kills many people worldwide. They're especially likely to be in the dark when the cause was some kind of infection and the victim was a child. And without this information, health officials don't know where to focus limited dollars, or how well current disease-reduction programs work. Researchers are therefore hoping that minimally invasive autopsies (MIAs)—which take fluids and bits of tissue from a half-dozen organs and examine them in the lab—can substitute for full autopsies and provide critical mortality data. The general idea of MIAs actually dates back several decades, but they have become a hot idea as international health agencies seek crucial data on causes of death. That's why teams in several countries, including Mozambique, have spent the past few years testing both the scientific validity and cultural acceptability of MIAs—with an eye toward expanding them across the globe.

  • * in Maputo, Mozambique