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Social autopsy: a potential health-promotion tool for preventing maternal mortality in low-income countries

Mahato, Preeti K; Waithaka, Elizabeth; van Teijlingen, Edwin; Pant, Puspa Raj; Biswas, Animesh


Preeti K Mahato

Elizabeth Waithaka

Edwin van Teijlingen

Animesh Biswas


Despite significant global improvements, maternal mortality in low-income countries remains unacceptably high. Increasing attention in recent years has focused on how social factors, such as family and peer influences, the community context, health services, legal and policy environments, and cultural and social values, can shape and influence maternal outcomes. Whereas verbal autopsy is used to attribute a clinical cause to a maternal death, the aim of social autopsy is to determine the non-clinical contributing factors. A social autopsy of a maternal death is a group interaction with the family of the deceased woman and her wider local community, where facilitators explore the social causes of the death and identify improvements needed. Although still relatively new, the process has proved useful to capture data for policy-makers on the social determinants of maternal deaths. This article highlights a second aspect of social autopsy - its potential role in health promotion. A social autopsy facilitates "community self-diagnosis" and identification of modifiable social and cultural factors that are attributable to the death. Social autopsy therefore has the potential not only for increasing awareness among community members, but also for promoting behavioural change at the individual and community level. There has been little formal assessment of social autopsy as a tool for health promotion. Rigorous research is now needed to assess the effectiveness and cost effectiveness of social autopsy as a preventive community-based intervention, especially with respect to effects on social determinants. There is also a need to document how communities can take ownership of such activities and achieve a sustainable impact on preventable maternal deaths.


Mahato, P. K., Waithaka, E., van Teijlingen, E., Pant, P. R., & Biswas, A. (2018). Social autopsy: a potential health-promotion tool for preventing maternal mortality in low-income countries. WHO South-East Asia Journal of Public Health, 7(1), 24-28.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 21, 2018
Online Publication Date Mar 27, 2018
Publication Date Apr 1, 2018
Journal WHO South-East Asia journal of public health
Print ISSN 2304-5272
Electronic ISSN 2304-5272
Publisher World Health Organization
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 7
Issue 1
Pages 24-28
Keywords health promotion, low-income countries, maternal death, prevention, social autopsy
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Additional Information : This is the author's accepted manuscript. The final published version is available here:


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