by Shaida Badiee
Millions of people in Africa are denied basic services because of deficient CRVS and national identification systems. Lacking records of their birth and civil status, they are excluded from health coverage, schooling, social protection programs, and humanitarian response in emergencies and conflicts. This can change. Through regional and international partnership, knowledge sharing and innovative use of information and communication technology, it is possible to record all vital events such as births, deaths, marriages, and divorces. The data generated through improved CRVS will lead to better policies to improve people’s lives.
Civil registration and vital statistics systems are an important government administrative function. According to WHO a well-functioning CRVS system aims to:
* Secure individuals with their legal identity and ensure rights of access to public services, social protection, and human rights;
* Generate statistics for policy formulation, planning and implementation, and monitoring of population dynamics and health indicators on a continuous basis at the national level and for administrative subdivisions. These data help to identify inequalities in access to services and differences in outcomes. They also improve the quality of other statistics that depend on accurate demographic benchmarks.
Despite progress in recent years, many countries still lack the capacity, infrastructure, and resources to implement well-functioning CRVS systems. Today only one country in Africa has a complete CRVS system. Why so little progress? Civil registration requires collaboration among several government ministries and technical know-how and innovative use of technologies for registering, archiving, and data management. Most of all, the necessary improvements will require leadership, political support, and resources. In poor countries, building or extending CRVS systems will also require the international community and donors to work together on a global program of support.
There is some good news to share on progress in Africa where regional programs motivate political support, do systematic national planning, and mobilize financial and technical resources. This week there is a lot happening on CRVS in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire, where the Third Conference of African Ministers Responsible for Civil Registration is being held with a theme of “Promoting use of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics in support of Good Governance in Africa”. The Conference will host a large number of participants, including Ministers responsible for Civil Registration, Ministers of Health, Directors of Civil registration offices, Directors of NSOs, Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Experts from African states, development partners, specialized UN agencies, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, academia, practitioners, civil society organizations, private sector, eminent policy and opinion leaders and other concerned stakeholders.
The broad goals of the conference are to provide clear directions to establish sustainable CRVS systems on the African continent and to identify priority actions that will lead to concrete outcomes in the short-term. The conference is to deliberate on good governance aspects of CRVS but also to address many specific important building blocks necessary for establishing a well-functioning CRVS.
Several aspects of the agenda for Yamoussoukro are of particular importance. An important theme is about partnership among the key agencies as no organization can fill gaps in CRVS alone. Africa Union Commission, African Development Bank, and UN Economic Commission for Africa are among the lead agencies coordinating the program of CRVS for Africa. The agenda also includes important discussions on the financing needs for the implementation of the CRVS systems in Africa, including the need to mobilize international partners and donors to support national efforts. The conference also includes important conversations on the intersection of CRVS and gender issues. CRVS provide an excellent source of gender-disaggregated data that can improve lives of women and girls and safeguard their rights.
It is a big agenda to plan for a complete CRVS system in Africa. But this is a great start and it is very encouraging to see the coverage of a wide set of issues and particularly these three topics (partnership, financing needs, and gender) among other topics on the CRVS Africa agenda for discussion this week in Yamoussoukro. I hope the discussions on policy and programmatic actions for the next phase of implementation of a regional Medium Term Plan will be fruitful and look forward to seeing the result of this week’s event.