Lessons learned from local initiatives supporting sustainable CRVS systems in Africa

Johannesburg, South Africa, 28 November 2015

Side meeting at the 7th African Population Conference

Organized by the IUSSP Scientific Panel on Innovations for Strengthening Civil Registration and Vital Statistical Systems

  • Chair: Patrick Gerland (United Nations Population Division)
  • Members: Carla AbouZahr (CAZ Consulting); Maria-Isabel Cobos (United Nations Statistics Division); Mark Landry (WHO Western Pacific Regional Office); Bruno Masquelier (Université catholique de Louvain); Gloria Mathenge (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa - UNECA); Neo Lepang (Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs, Botswana); Chalapati Rao (Australian National University); Anneke Schmider (WHO); Romesh Silva (United Nations).


Timely and comprehensive reporting of vital events, and their registration by civil authorities still remain deficient in most sub-Saharan African countries. Overall, it is estimated that less than 50% of deaths are reported in official records at the national scale, with only few exceptions (e.g. South Africa). Only 44% of children under age five have had their birth registered in Sub-Saharan Africa. [See: UNICEF (2013), Every Child's Birth Right: Inequities and trends in birth registration] 


In recent years, there has been a growing momentum for strengthening civil registration and vital statistics. The importance of timely, high-quality and disaggregated data on vital events is an integral part of the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Civil registration provides a way not only to ensure that no one is left behind or is invisible, but to secure for everyone the recognition of a legal identity, and to facilitate access to basic rights such as education, social protection and benefits. 


In this context, the IUSSP Scientific Panel on Innovations for Strengthening CRVS Systems decided to focus its first seminar on recent and historical experiences and lessons learned with CRVS systems in sub-Saharan Africa, on-going efforts to strengthen national systems, recent assessments of birth and death registration completeness at the national and subnational level, how innovations are being used to improve monitoring and recording of vital events, and experiences with improving mortality and cause-of-death statistics through CRVS. 


About 60 submissions were received by the organisers following an open call for papers circulated to IUSSP members, the Isibalo Young African Statisticians Association, UNECA, UNFPA and UNICEF focal points on CRVS, and the global UN CRVS community of international agencies and partner institutions involved with CRVS worldwide. Sixteen communications were selected by the organizers with two invited presentations from UNECA and UNICEF on the situation and regional activities related to CRVS in sub-Saharan Africa. 



The Seminar was held in Johannesburg (South Africa) on 28 November 2015 as a side meeting at the 7th African Population Conference.  Seminar Organizers were Dr. Patrick Gerland, Chair of the IUSSP Panel on CRVS, and Prof Bruno Masquelier at the University Catholic of Louvain and Panel member. Twenty-eight researchers from eighteen countries attended the Seminar as speakers, discussants, special guests and panel members. Only three participants were unable to attend the seminar due to visa issues, or scheduling conflict. The vast majority of participants were demographers studying at or working in a university or research institute. Participants included as well representatives from Ministries of Home Affairs responsible for civil registration, regional statistical offices and international organisations involved with vital statistics. 












The main objective of the Seminar was to bring together researchers and practitioners involved with CRVS systems and analytical work using vital statistics from sub-Saharan Africa. The authors reflected on their respective national experiences, and offered comprehensive and up-to-date assessments and evaluations of the progress made, data quality and coverage, and how ICT innovations can help to improve registration and the production of vital statistics.



The seminar programme was organized around 6 thematic sessions:

  • Current status of CRVS systems in sub-Saharan Africa
  • Untapped sources of vital statistics data at the local level
  • Assessment studies in various countries
  • Evaluation of CRVS coverage
  • Innovations in monitoring and recording vital events
  • Improving mortality and cause-of-death statistics through CRVS



A few highlights on the status of CRVS in sub-Saharan Africa:

  • Within the last 5-10 years a growing number of sub-Saharan African countries have been making fast improvements in their CRVS systems involving both the civil registration system, but also legislative aspects, ICT, expansion of local registration centers, community involvement and a growing use of mobile technology in remote areas – especially for birth registration.
  • The experience of countries like South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, but also Uganda, Mozambique, Kenya, etc. as presented at this meeting shows the remarkable capacity to scale-up civil registration both at the local and national level, even in low-income countries in recent years.
  • The national capacity to produce timely vital statistics provides growing potentials not only at national level, but also for evaluation and use of vital statistics at subnational level for health programme monitoring, etc. for areas which have already achieved higher completeness of vital registration.
  • The use of ICT and mobile technology, especially when combined with adequate adaptation to local settings, has been used by a growing number of countries to successfully scale-up efforts to improve vital registration (e.g., Botswana, Uganda, Mozambique).
  • Data quality and reporting of deaths, especially causes of death, remain challenging – even for a country like South Africa – and further evaluation of completeness of reporting is warranted, especially at the subnational level, using independent sources of information like recent household deaths information obtained from recent censuses, and more in-depth analysis and use of causes of death upon their availability.



To read more on the presentations, content of the papers, key achievements, challenges, opportunities and potentials for further research and analytical work on vital registration and statistics, a full report will be posted on the IUSSP Panel web site by the end of January 2016.




Publication Plan: A selection of papers will be submitted for publication as a special collection in a peer-reviewed journal.


Funding: Financial support for seminar was provided by the United Nations Fund for Population (UNFPA).