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Vital Stories

How Champions in Four Countries Are Working Toward #CountingEveryone  

Vital Strategies

Millions of people around the globe live without the rights, protections and benefits afforded by a legal identity, and die without any proof of existence. The births of one in four children are still not registered—that’s 166 million children—and 45% of women in low-resource countries have no way to legally prove their identity.  This lack of data deprives government of reliable and timely vital statistics, which is crucial to develop health and other social policies. 

To build a more inclusive and healthier world, it’s time to start #CountingEveryone. 

The #CountingEveryone campaign from Vital Strategies and our partners in the Bloomberg Philanthropies Data for Health Initiative elevates the stories of champions worldwide who are spearheading efforts to broaden the completeness and timeliness of civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS). The campaign highlights rapid improvements to country-level systems made possible through the efforts of bold leaders, strong governance and coordination.  

Through social media videos, leadership profiles, quotes and compelling infographics, the campaign calls attention to four exceptional country case studies: Bangladesh, Colombia, Rwanda and Viet Nam. The personal and professional stories of champions in these countries help us understand how strong CRVS systems can positively impact people’s lives.  

CRVS: The civil registration of births and deaths, including cause of death, which offers benefits to both individuals and governments. 

CRVS as a Foundation of Rights and Good Governance 

Civil registration plays a critical role in people’s lives, serving as the gateway to exercise individual rights and protections. Legal records such as birth, death and marriage certificates open up access to health care and education, and guarantee the right to vote and to inheritances following the death of a loved one. This is especially important for women, children and those living in relative poverty, who suffer most from low birth and death registration, therefore remaining outside of safety nets and thus vulnerable to exploitation. 

Civil registration is foundational to good governance. It confers legal identity when a birth is registered and certifies the fact and cause of death. Vital statistics derived from CRVS systems provide information that allows for disaggregated analyses that can highlight inequities. Data on causes of death among different genders or comparing poorer to wealthier geographies is just one example of how CRVS systems fuel essential public health intelligence. 

Together, civil registration and vital statistics enable governments to serve their people by facilitating  public programs, monitoring their impact and planning for future activities. High-quality CRVS data can also be used to measure progress toward almost a third of all Sustainable Development Goal indicators.   

Bangladesh has pursued the growth of its civil registration and vital statistics system using a strategy of making registration as easy as possible for individuals. This is because the government views CRVS as the foundation of rights, protections, entitlements and services from birth to death. As Registrar General Mustakim Billah Faruqui emphasizes, “CRVS is a right, and the foundation of rights.”  

In five years, the country saw birth registration increase from an estimated 5% in 2016, to now 37% of all births are registered within a year of occurrence. Anir Chowdhury, who serves as policy advisor in the Government of Bangladesh’s Aspire to Innovate (a2i) program, understands what civil registration means for his people: “Civil registration is a matter of rights for a person. It’s also a matter of dignity for that person.” 

Rwanda is also ensuring the rights of its citizens by removing barriers to civil registration. The 2020 Births and Death Act dramatically expanded the number of civil registration points from 400 to over 2,500—making it easier for Rwandans to register births and deaths close to home, instead of making long and expensive journeys to previously distant registration centers. 

It’s a straightforward rationale for Dr. Robert Gakire, Director General of Governance and Decentralization in the Ministry of Local Government, who explains: “Civil registration is like any other human right.” 

Dramatic Improvements Through Coordinated Government Action 

When civil registration does not reach everyone, it’s not only individuals who suffer; it’s a public health crisis. The information gathered through strong CRVS systems provides governments with insights into population health and other data that is not available from any other source. 

When civil registration does not reach everyone, it’s not only individuals who suffer; it’s a public health crisis.

Efforts to strengthen CRVS systems require coordination across diverse sectors and stakeholders, including the national registration authority as well as ministries of health, statistics and justice. Such coordination removes roadblocks caused by competing priorities among different government entities, paving the way for dramatic improvements by harnessing the expertise of each stakeholder.  

Take Colombia, for example, which has one of the most robust civil registration and vital statistics systems in Latin America. This is the result of strong collaboration between the country’s health and vital statistics entities. They have established near-universal access to CRVS, creating a complete picture of birth, death and cause of death. 

Dr. Edna Margarita Valle Cabrera is the Vital Statistics Coordinator for the Census and Demography Directorate at the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) in Colombia. She understands the value of partnership, noting that her team’s collaboration with Colombia’s Ministry of Health and Social Protection has allowed the government to see, for the first time, life and death experiences in previously unseen rural communities. In her words: “A civil registration and vital statistics system is very powerful and specific objectives can only be reached when working harmoniously.” 

In 2017, the Prime Minister of Viet Nam advanced a national action program to bring together and coordinate CRVS stakeholders. By sharing data and statistics among sectors—particularly those relating to births and deaths—government agencies are able to streamline the policy-making process, protect people’s health and ensure other rights and interests are honored. So far the country has a reported birth registration rate of 98%. 

Said Mr. Nguyen Cong Khanh, Director of Civil Registration, Nationality, Attestation Department, in Viet Nam’s Ministry of Justice: “We are improving inter-sectoral coordination at all levels in birth and death registration.” 

Advances in technology and innovative leadership mean that it’s now possible to count every human life. And leaders and champions of CRVS are driving progress. Join the more than 156,000 people worldwide engaging with #CountingEveryone to see why:  

Learn more about Vital Strategies’ Data for Health programs here and follow us on Twitter @VitalStrat. 

To stay up to date on the latest Data for Health news, sign up for the quarterly newsletter here.  

The  Data for Health Initiative is a global effort supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It provides technical assistance to low- and middle-income countries worldwide to improve public health data systems at the national level, including improving civil registration and vital statistics systems, maximizing the use of data to enhance public health policymaking and decision-making, establishing and strengthening national cancer registries and more. Vital Strategies serves as an implementing partner.