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Health sector contributions towards improving the civil registration of births and deaths in low-income countries

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Improving the civil registration of births and deaths in low-income countries

Guidance for the health sector managers, civil registrars and development partners

The civil registration of births and deaths represents the legal recognition of a person’s existence, from the start of life until death. It also implies an acknowledgement of the responsibilities of the state towards the individual. The registration of a birth or death, including a stillbirth, within days of its occurrence enables individuals and their families to access essential resources and health care. Yet three in ten births under the age of one and almost half of the world’s deaths go unregistered, and without this legal proof of identity, they are left uncounted and invisible.

The benefits of higher rates of civil registration are not limited to the individual: countries need to know how many people are born and die each year to safeguard individual’s right to establish a legal identity from birth, to be protected from violence and exploitation, to access social services, and inheritance. The availability of granular and complete data is paramount to generate vital statistics for improved local and national planning and monitoring. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a spotlight on the critical importance of vital statistics, specifically on deaths and their causes.

The guidance – jointly developed by UNICEF and WHO – describes the mutual benefits that would accrue to individuals and societies from enhanced collaboration between the health and civil registration systems. It presents some common scenarios in which live births, stillbirths, and deaths occur and outlines key steps that health workers can take to enable them to be registered.