African countries and development partners are advocating for the improvement of the systems that capture births, deaths and causes of death among their populations, especially the causes of death among women and children, to improve human rights and assist in proper planning and allocation of resources.
Statisticians representing all African countries met in Cape Town last at the 7th Africa Symposium on Statistical Development (ASSD) and the meeting of the Statistical Commission for Africa (STATCOM), and resolved to strengthen Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) systems during the next five years across Africa.
“We want to register children,” said Statistician-General of South Africa and ASSD Chair Pali Lehohla at the meeting. “Knowing that you exist is a basic human right,” he added.
Presently, only three of the 32 reporting countries in Africa have achieved complete civil registration to date: Egypt, Mali and Morocco.
Improving this performance is a critical need in improving accountability and advancing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 4 and 5, relating to child and maternal mortality, as highlighted in Keeping Promises, Measuring Results, a recent report by the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health.
Keeping Promises identifies the establishment of strong national information systems as a critical component of accountability. The report calls on countries to establish a system for registering births, deaths and causes of deaths, and to have well-functioning health information systems that combine data from facilities, administrative sources and surveys.
The Commission on Information and Accountability was mandated by the Global Strategy on Women’s and Children’s Health, launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in September 2010.
Accountability is an essential element of the Global Strategy, which aims at saving the lives of 16 million women and children under five years of age by 2015.
The Africa Union Commission is also finalizing an MNCH Task Force as directed by the AU Heads of State Summit in July 2010 to promote accountability of African governments on their commitments to maternal, newborn and child health.
Strengthening civil registration systems is complex and requires the active cooperation of the statistical and health systems.
“There are exciting developments and innovations in CRVS systems happening already in Africa,” said Jane Thomason, Adviser to the Board of the Health Metrics Network, a global health partnership based at the World Health Organization in Geneva. “The outcomes of these country-led innovations will help other countries wanting to accelerate improvement of their CRVS systems.”
The first Conference of African Ministers responsible for Civil Registration took place in August 2010 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The meeting was attended by ministers responsible for civil registration as well as representatives of national civil registration and statistics offices and international organizations. The meeting culminated in a set of declarations reflecting the need to address critical political and policy issues on reforming and improving CRVS systems in Africa.
Civil registration is the conventional source for the generation of continuous and complete vital information that provides key health and demographic statistics, including the MDG indicators. It also produces various legal and administrative documents that are the basis for acknowledging and safeguarding basic human rights, including children’s and women’s rights.
Civil registration also provides critical information required for the implementation of decentralization and democratization processes currently in progress in most African countries.
“Improved evidence-based planning for accelerating health and overall social development requires African governments to prioritize investment and legislation to strengthen civil registration and vital statistic mechanisms,” said Rotimi Sankore, Coordinator of Africa Public Health Alliance, an African organization championing African health and social development.
A side meeting at the Cape Town conference brought together CRVS researchers from an innovative program, MOVE-IT, in 10 African countries sponsored by the Health Metrics Network. The MOVE-It research partners have been reviewing CRVS systems and testing innovations to improve transmission of data, community based reporting, interoperability of health and statistical systems and measurement of cause of death in Africa.
The completed research and tools and lessons for other countries will be presented at the upcoming 8th ASSD meeting in Cote d’Ivoire, which will focus on measurement and reporting of causes of death.