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Glossary

Find definitions to the words you need to comprehend the complexities of CRVS systems in our Glossary.

Accuracy of register-based vital statistics

The degree to which data items on the statistical report have been correctly and completely filled out with no errors introduced during transcription of vital records data into the statistical report, or during the processing stages (including coding, editing, input and tabulation).

Act

In some legal systems, an item of 'primary legislation' (law passed in parliament) is known as an act after enactment.

Age

The interval of time between birth and the present, expressed in completed units of solar time. For adults and children, age is usually measured in completed years, while for infants or very young children, in completed months, weeks, days, hours or minutes of life as appropriate.

ANACONDA

Analysis of causes of (national) death for action (ANACONDA) is an electronic tool that assesses the accuracy and completeness of mortality and cause of death data.

As-desired process

This step in business process mapping involves outlining your plan for change after identifying existing gaps in your as-is process.

Attendant at birth

The person who assisted the mother in giving birth; eg a physician, midwife, nurse, paramedic or lay person.

Automated classification of medical entities (ACME)

Program which automates the underlying cause of death coding rules. The inputs to ACME are the multiple ICD cause of death codes assigned to each entity (eg disease condition, accident or injury) listed on cause of death certifications, preserving the location and order as reported by the certifier. ACME then applies WHO rules to the ICD codes and selects an underlying cause of death. ACME has become the de facto international standard for the automated selection of underlying cause of death.

Bill

Before an item of legislation becomes law, it may be known as a bill.

Birth

See 'live birth'

Birth parity

The number of times that a woman has given birth to a fetus with a gestational age of 24 weeks or more, regardless of whether the child was born alive or was stillborn.

Birth rate

The crude birth rate is the number of birth over a given period divided by the person years lived by the population over that period. It is expressed as the number of births per 1000 population.

Born in wedlock

A characteristic of a live born infant or dead fetus whose mother and father were legally married (any recognised union according to the laws or customs of the country) at the time of delivery.

Born out of wedlock

A characteristic of a live born infant or dead fetus whose mother and father were not legally married at the time of delivery.

Burial permit

An official document, usually issued only for a legally registered death, authorising the removal of the dead body (corpse) to a cemetery or other final site.

Capture - recapture

A type of method that can be used to assess the completeness of registration. Two independent sources of data are used to identify births or deaths, with subsequent determination made of the proportion of cases identified by the second method that were also identified by the first. From this information, the total number of cases can be estimated using mathematical models. Although capture-recapture methods can be used to help monitor trends over time, this assumes closed populations (that is, low rates of migration).

Causes of death

All diseases, morbid conditions or injuries that either resulted in or contributed to death, and the circumstances of the accident or violence that produced any such injuries. Symptoms or modes of dying (such as heart failure or asthenia) are not considered to be causes of death for vital statistics purposes (see 'underlying cause of death').

Certification

The issuance by the civil registrar of a legal document certifying a birth or death.

Certification of cause of death

The completion by a medically trained person of a death certificate including the cause of death (according to ICD certification standards) .

Certifier (of cause of death)

A person authorised by law to issue a medical certificate in a prescribed format, stating the underlying and contributory causes of death and other facts related to the event submission to the local registrar or other appropriate authority. The certifier is usually the physician who attended the deceased in their final illness or, in the case of individuals who were not attended by a physician during their final illness or who may have died due to violence or injury, the medical-legal officer (eg coroner or medical examiner).

Citizen

A person who holds the legal nationality of the country they are living in and, as such, benefits from all the constitutional rights of that country, but who is also subject to the obligations and regulations that apply to its citizens.

Citizenship

The legal nationality of a person.

Civil register

A loose-leaf file, ledger book, electronic file or any other official file for the permanent recording in accordance with established procedures, of each type of vital event and its associated data occurring in the population of a well-defined area (eg an entire country, county, district, municipality or parish).

Civil registrar

The official charged with the responsibility for civil registration of vital events in well-defined area (eg an entire country, county, district, municipality or parish) and for recording reporting information on those vital events for legal and statistical purposes.

Civil registration

The continuous, permanent, compulsory and universal recording of the of the occurrence and characteristics of vital events (live births, deaths, fetal deaths, marriages and divorces) and other civil is events pertaining to the population as provided by decree, law or regulation, in accordance with legal requirements of each country. It establishes and provides legal documentation of such events. These records are also the best source of vital statistics.

Civil registration system

The institutional, legal and technical settings established by government to conduct civil registration in a technical, sound, coordinated and standardised manner throughout country, taking into account cultural and social circumstances particular to the country (see 'civil registration and vital statistics system').

Civil society

The voluntary participation of citizens in the civic and social bodies that form the basis of functioning society, as opposed to state and commercial institutions.

Coalition

A group of organisations working together in a coordinated fashion towards a common goal.

Cohort

A group of people sharing a common temporal demographic experience who are observed through time. For example, the birth cohort of the year 2000 comprises the people born in that year.

Completed fertility rate

The number of children born per woman to a cohort of women by the end of childbearing years.

Completeness of civil registration

A measure of the extent to which the births and deaths that occur in a given year are registered by the civil registration system. Several demographic techniques have been developed to assess and adjust the information on births and deaths derived from civil registration. Some methods compare data from independent sources (direct capture-recapture approaches), whereas others are indirect analytical methods based on assumptions about the population age distribution. There are various indirect demographic techniques for estimating the completeness of death registration; eg the Bennett-Horiuchi, Chanrasekaran-Deming and Brass-Growth Balance methods. These methods are often used by a national statistics office or academic institution to estimate registration completeness.

Confidentiality

A guarantee that information provided by respondents will not be revealed to others.

Coroner

An officer of a county, district, municipality, parish, etc., authorised by law to hold an inquest into deaths that may have involved violence, injury or suspicious circumstances to determine if the death was due to non-natural causes, such as accident, suicide or homicide.

Crude birth rate

A vital statistics summary rate based on the number of live births occurring in a population during a given period of time. Typically expressed as the number of live births occurring among the population of a given geographical area during a given calendar year per 1000 mid-year total population of the given geographical area during the same year.

Crude death rate

A vital statistics summary rate based on the number of deaths occurring in a population during a given period of time. Typically expressed as the number of deaths occurring among the populationduring a given geographical area during a given calendar year per 1000 mid-year total population of the given geographical area during the same year.

Data dashboard

A means of providing at-a-glance views of key performance indicators. Data dashboards are typically limited to showing summaries, key trends, comparisons and exceptions.

Data dictionary

A centralised repository of information on data such as meuning, relationships to other data, origin, usage and format. Also known as a metadata repository.

Data documentation

Facilitates the effective checking and preservation of a data set and ensures that the research community will be able to use the data. For more information, please see the Data Documentation Initiative at: ddialliance.org

Data repository

A means of providing storage and access to datasets and their documentation.The repository can comprise multiple networked data-storage technologies running on diverse operating systems, where data that no longer need to be in primary storage are protected and classified according to captured metadata, processed, de-duplicated and then purged automatically, based on data service level objectives and requirements. In information repositories, data-storage resources are virtualised as composite storage sets and operate as a federated environment.

Date of birth

The day, month and year of birth (and hours and minutes, if required) used to determine age in completed units of time.

Date of occurrence

The day, month and year of occurrence of a vital event; and hours and minutes in the case of births, and infants dying in the first week of life.

Date of registration

The day, month and year when an entry of registration of a vital event is made in the civil register.

Death

The permanent disappearance of all evidence of life at any time after live birth has taken place (postnatal cessation of vital functions without capability of resuscitation). This definition excludes fetal death.

Decision-maker

A person with the authority to create or change communal, organisational or governmental policies, programs and/or laws.

Delayed registration

The registration of a vital event after hte period prescribed in existing laws, rules or regulations (including any specified grace period). A late registration is the registration of a vital event after the prescribed period but within a specified grace period. Since the grace period is usually considered to be one year following the vital event, delayed registration is usually considered to be the registration of a vital event one year or more after its occurence.

Demographic surveillance system

The longitudinal enumeration of all demographic events, including cause of death via verbal autopsy, in a geographically defined population; usually established with the primary purpose of health and development intervention research.

Enumeration

The means by which the presence of individuals in a household or other group is recorded; normally used in reference to a census or survey. Distinct from registration, enumeration is anonymous and does not provide any direct benefit to the individual.

Epidemiology

The study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states and events in populations.

Episodes

The meaningful and identifiable segments of time associated with life events such as pregnancies, conjugal relationships and residencies.

Evaluation of a civil registration (or vital statistics) system

An appraisal of the value, worth and importance of individual elements in the operation of the system.

Fertility rate

The total fertility rate is the average number of children born to each woman over the course of her life. In general, total fertility rate is a better indicator of (current) fertility rates than crude birth rate as it is unaffected by the age distribution of the population.

Fetal death

The death prior to the complete expulsion or extraction from its mother of a product of inception, irrespective of the duration of the gestation period; following separation, the fetus does not breathe or show any other evidence of life, such as beating of the heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord or define movement of voluntary muscles.

Geographic information systems (GIS)

A system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyse, manage and present all types of geographically referenced data. In simple terms, the GIS is the merging cartography, statistical analysis and database technology.

Gestational period

The interval in completed weeks between the first day of the last menstrual period of the mother and the day, month and year of delivery, irrespective of whether the product of conception is a live birth or stillbirth.

Governance

A way to describe the processes for making and implementing decisions.

Household

An arrangement in which one or more people make common provisions for their own food ('eat from the same pot') or other life essentials. A household may have a common budget, be related, unrelated or a combination of both, and there may be more than one household in a housing unit.

Household surveys

Generally unreliable sources of data on adult and cause-specific mortality due to relatively rarity of such deaths and the limitations of sample size. Due to the sample size limitations, reliable estimates are usually only possible at national level and for major subregions. Population-based surveys include more-detailed questions on mortality and fertility that can be asked during a census, and can thus be used to generate estimates of fertility, and of child and adult mortality. DHS, PAPCHILD and MICS are examples of survey programs that have yielded useful estimates of vital statistics rates, particularly fertility and child mortality.

Ill-defined cause of death

A collection of vague diagnoses that should not be used as the underlying cause of death, and consisting of 'symptoms, signs and abnormal clinical and laboratory findings, not elsewhere classified'.

Infant deaths

The deaths of liveborn children under one year of age.

Informant

An individual responsible by law for reporting the occurrence of a vital event to the local registrar and for providing all the information and characteristics related to the event. On the basis of such a report, the event may be legally registered by the local registrar.

Intercensal projection

Estimates of population size between official census dates.

International Statistical Classification of Diseasee and Related Health Problems, tenth revision (ICD-10)

Sometimes shortened to the 'International Classification of Diseases', this classification systems is maintained by WHO for coding diseases, signs, symptoms ansd other factors causing mobidity and mortality. Used worldwide for morbidity and morality statistics and designed to promoted international comparability in the collection, processing, classification and presentation of statistics.

Iris

Iris is an automated, interactive mortality coding system, which codes multiple causes of death and selects the underlying cause of death for statistical tabulation.

Legal framework for civil registration and vital statistics

The system of regulations and guidelines that govern the civil registration system and the vital statistics derived. This includes regulations on the medical certification process and burials, as well as on the dissemination and tion of vital statistics, with these different aspects potentially coming under different jurisdictions and acts.

Life expectancy

The average number of additional years a person could expect to live should current mortality trends continue for the rest of their life. Most commonly cited as life expectancy at birth.

Life table

A tabular display of life expectancy and the probability of dying at each age (or age group) for a given population, according to the age-specific death rates prevailing at that time. The life table provides an organised and complete picture of a population' s mortality.

Live birth

The result of the complete expulsion or extraction from its mother of a product of conception, irrespective of the duration of pregnancy, which after such separation breathes or shows any other evidence of life, such as beating of the heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord or definite movement of voluntary muscles, whether or not the umbilical cord has been cut or the placenta is attached; each product of such a birth is considered to be liveborn.

Maternal death

The death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days after the termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes.

Maternal mortality ratio

A vital statistics rate based on the number of deaths due to maternal causes relative to the number of live births occurring during a given period of time, usually a calendar year. Typically expressed as the number of deaths of women resulting from (a) direct obstetric complications of pregnancy, labour and the puerperium; (b) from interventions, omissions or incorrect treatments or their results; or (c) from indirect obstetric causes resulting from previously existing disease or disease arising during pregnancy and which was not due to direct obstetric causes but which was aggravated by the physiological effects of the pregnancy, occurring in a given geographical area during a given calendar year per 100,000 (or 10,000) live births occurring in the given geographical area during the same year.

Medical certification

See 'certification of cause of death'.

Message

A statement that aims to inform, persuade or motivate an audience.

Metadata

'Descriptive metadata' is information about data, such as data sources, purpose of the data, standards, definitions, statistical methods and possible sources of bias. 'Structural metadata' relates to the design and specification of data structures and databases.

Migration

The movement of people across a specified boundary for the purpose of establishing a semi-permanent residence. External migration is a move from a residential unit in the demographic surveillance area to one outside it, and internal migration is a move from one residential unit to another the same demographic surveillance area.

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

Eight social, health and economic development goals endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2000.

Mode of death

The way a person died; for example, 'respiratory failure'. To write this on a death certificate is not sufficient because it does not indicate what disease or condition caused the death.

Monitoring of a civil registration system (or a vital statistics system)

Checking the operation of civil registration (or vital statistics) system in order to control its efficiency, accuracy, timeliness and coverage on an ongoing basis.

Morbidity rate

The frequency of disease, illness, injuries and disabilities in a population.

Mortality rate

The frequency of deaths as a component of population change.

Neonatal deaths

Deaths of liveborn infants during the first 28 completed days of life.

Notification

The issuance by an appropriate authority (such as a health careworker) of a form confirming a vital event (birth or death). Often this notification form is used by the family to report the event to the civil registration office. It can also be required to obtain a burial permit in the case of a death. This form does not have the legal status of a birth or death certificate.

Perinatal mortality rate

The number of fetal deaths after 28 weeks of pregnancy (late fetal deaths) is the number of deaths of infants under 7 days of age per 1000 live births.

Perinatal period

The perinatal period commences at 22 weeks (154 days) of gestation (the time when weight is normally 500 grams) and ends 7 completed days after birth.

Personal identification number (PIN)

The number or other code used to uniquely identify a person in population database or any other administrative register. The use of a unique identifier for each person IDs, duplicate entries and errors in respect to a person's identity.

Policy

A plan, course of action or set of regulations adopted by government, business or other institutions and designed to influence and determine decisions or procedures.

Policy analysis

Usually the first step in planning an advocacy initiative. Policy analysis examines plans regulations set by governments, business or other institutions, and how policies (or lack of policies ii lure to implement them) affect specific population groups.

Population

(1) All of the inhabitants of a given country or area (province, city, metropolitan area etc.) considered together; or the number of such inhabitants. (2) In sampling, the whole collection of units has people, households, institutions or events) from which a sample may be drawn.

Population census

The total process of collecting, compiling, evaluating, analysing and publishing or otherwise disseminating demographic, economic and social data pertaining (at a specified time) to all the people in a country or in a well-delimited part of a country. Data from population censuses can be used to estimate birth and death rates. Also, population censuses can provide the best source of data on at-risk populations (numerators and denominators) in small geographical or administrative areas, and baseline for sample vital registration.

Population register

A mechanism for the continuous recording of selected information pertaining to each member of the resident population of a country or area, resulting in up-to-date information on the size and characteristics of the population at selected points in time. Because of the nature of the population register, both its organisation and operation should have a legal basis. Population registers start with a base consisting of an inventory of the inhabitants of an area and their characteristics (such as date of birth, sex, marital status, place of birth, place of residence, citizenship and language). To help in locating a record for a particular person, household or family in a population register, rare unique identification number is provided for each entity.


The population register can contain other socioeconomic data, such as occupation or educational level. The population register should be updated with the births, deaths, marriages and divorces recorded by the civil registration system of the country. The population register is also updated using migration records. Thus, notifications of certain events, which may have been recorded originally in different administrative systems, are automatically linked to a population register on an ongoing basis. The method and sources of updating should cover all changes to ensure that the characteristics of individuals in the register remain current.

Population-at-risk

(1) for vital statistics purposes, the population that is subject to the occurrence of vital event, such as the total population in the case of deaths, or the legally married population in the case of divorces. (2) for the calculation of specified vital statistics rates, the number (denominator) by which the number of vital events (numerator) is divided.

Poverty mapping

The plotting of information on income, education, health etc. on maps in order to display the spatial distribution of welfare and its determinants. It is also used to simultaneously display different dimensions of poverty and/or its determinants.

Probability of dying

The probability that an individual of exact age x will die before exact age x+n, represented by the symbol nqx.

Quality of data

In civil registration or vital statistics system, the quality of data is measured in terms of the degree of data completeness, correctness (accuracy), timeliness and availability.

Record linkage

A process (usually computer-based) that brings together information from two or more data files into a new combined file containing selected information on individuals or events that were not available in the separate records.

Registrar-general

The head of the civil registration office or department, with jurisdiction usually extending over the entire national territory.

Registration

The formal act of reporting a birth or death, and obtaining a birth or death certificate issued by the civil registration authority. At this stage, details of the event are written into the official civil register by the registrar. Registration is the essential step prior to obtaining a certificate.

Regulation

A law that has been passed not by the parliament but by an executive body of the government (eg an administration or a ministry). Regulations are as compulsory as laws, and deal with the details of how law sare to be executed.

Resident

See 'usual residence'.

Sample registration system

Longitudinal enumeration of demographic events (including cause of death via verbal autopsy) in a nationally representative sample of clusters, such as that used in China and India.

Sample vital registration with verbal autopsy (SAVVY)

The MEASURE Evaluation project based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the United States Census Bureau has produced a series of SAVVY manuals for mortality surveillance (available here).

Small-area data estimation

Any of several statistical techniques involving the estimation of parameters for small sub-populations. Generally used when the sub-population of interest is included in a larger survey.

Stakeholders

People or institutions with a shared interest (financial or otherwise) in a given event process or outcome.

Start up Mortality List (SMoL)

SMoL was developed by WHO in collaboration with the University of Oslo for collecting cause of death  (COD) information. SMoL contains a simplified list of 106 CODs that physicians can use to certify the COD. 

Statistical reporting of vital event data

The transmission of statistical reports on legally recorded vital events to the agency responsible for the compilation of statistics on such events.

Stillbirth

A baby that shows no signs of life when born. Stillbirths may be due to injuries, illness, infections or catastrophic events happening to the mother or to the child while in the womb or during birth. To distinguish this from abortion or miscarriage (for which a verbal autopsy is not conducted), the verbal autopsy system includes only births that occur after 28 weeks of pregnancy.

Survey

A canvassing of selected individuals or households in a population usually used to infer demographic characteristics or trends for a larger segment or for all of the population (see 'census').

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) agenda is an Action Agenda unanimously agreed by the UN Member States at a high-level UN summit in September 2015. The 17 SDGs considerably expand the scope and ambition of their precursor, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of 2001. 

 

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is applicable to all countries until the year 2030. It aims to ensure ‘No One is Left Behind’ in global sustainable development efforts, regardless of who they are and where they live.

Timeliness in register-based vital statistics

For every vital event registered within the interval specified by legislation, a statistical report form must be forwarded to the agency responsible for the compilation of vital statistics within the established time schedule of the vital statistics system. In addition, the production, publication and dissemination of the vital statistics must be prompt enough to serve the needs of users.

Timeliness in registration

This element of a vital event report is determined by the time difference between the date of the event and the date of its registration when compared to the interval specified by legislation.

Underlying cause of death

The disease or injury that initiated the train of morbid events leading directly to death, or the circumstances of the accident or violence which produced the fatal injury. The underlying cause of death is used as the basis for the tabulation of mortality statistics.

Usual place of residence

Although no standard definition exists, most countries agree that a person can only have one 'usual' (or 'primary') residence, which is typically defined as the place where they spend most time and where they are registered for voting in elections.

Verbal autopsy (VA)

A structured interview administered to caregivers or family members of households following a death. The VA is used to determine the probable cause(s) of death in settings where most deaths occur outside of health facilities and were direct medical certification is rare.

Vital event

The occurrence of a live birth, death, fetal death, marriage, divorce, adoption, legitimation, recognition of parenthood, annulment of marriage or legal separation.

Vital event record

A legal document entered in the civil register which attests to the occurrence and characteristics of a vital event.

Vital registration

All sanctioned modes of registering individuals and reporting on vital events.

Vital statistical record

A document or record containing the items of information on an individual vital event needed to compile vital statistics.

Vital statistics

Summary measures of the frequency of occurrence and relevant characteristics of specified and defined vital events derived from civil registration, enumeration and other sources of vital events data. In settings where civil registration functions poorly or not at all, the United Nations acknowledges that a variety of data sources and systems are used to derive vital statistics.

Vital statistics system

The entire system for (1) collecting summary vital events data. (2) compiling, processing, analysing, evaluating, presenting and disseminating this data in the form of vital statistics.
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