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Methods and tools to evaluate the quality of vital statistics

Common issues and challenges of birth statistics

The two primary factors that will affect the utility of birth data are the coverage and completeness of the birth registration system. The effects of these two factors are discussed below.

The representativeness of the birth data may be biased due to coverage problems if not all populations and areas are covered. For instance, certain ethnic groups or people living in rural or remote areas may have more barriers to access registration points, and are thus less likely to register the births of their children. However, the biggest challenge for many countries is to register or record all births that take place in the community. Incompleteness therefore is the primary cause of poor quality birth registration data.

Another key challenge in the collection of birth statistics is to capture all births within 12 months of when they occur. The reported annual data are often a mix of children of different ages (both newborns and older children) who were registered that year. Sometimes these data include adult registrations. Even when laws and regulations define the legal time limit for registering a birth, these laws are not always enforced. Some children may only be registered for the first time when they reach school age, when a birth certificate for enrolment is often required. 

For reporting and analysis purposes, children whose birth did not occur in the year of registration should be separated from children who were born in the past year. The percentage of late registrations should be carefully monitored, because these lower the utility of the data, and because the births of children who die before registration will be missed. 

Additionally, errors or omissions of the age of the mother and sex of the child can affect the resulting birth statistics. The mother’s age is critical for calculating statistics related to fertility and teenage birth rates. The sex of the child can provide a measure to determine the quality of the data, and also act as a signal of fetal sex selection and preference in countries where this is a problem. 

Birth registration digitisation in Ghana

Vital event registration in Ghana is low, with birth registration at 57%. Nevertheless the country is moving to implement digitisation for birth registration records. Benjamin Clapham, Ghana's Project Officer, explains.

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