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The road to registering more births in Tanzania

“The implications of not having your birth registered are huge,” says statistician and BD4H Tanzania CRVS Fellow Chris Sanga, “yet as little as 1 in 4 Tanzanian children under the age of 5 have had their birth registered.”

Birth registration is not only vital for gaining formal identity but is needed for everything from gaining formal employment, to the right to vote, to opening a bank account. For national and local governments, complete birth registration provides timely and reliable fertility statistics to inform planning across many sectors of society, in particular health and education.

Like many countries who are moving towards digital record-keeping, it is impossible to know the with certainty the number of registered births in Tanzania, as much of the country uses typewriters or handwritten records.

Tanzania’s short history of birth registration systems

Tanzania is working to remove these uncertainties and increase registration by integrating technology when possible and beginning to decentralise some of their districts.

Traditionally, Tanzania uses a centralised system to register births but is moving towards decentralised systems. Currently, they are in the process of further decentralising their birth registration systems with seven of their 25 regions are already decentralised.

Wards are a level below districts in Tanzania. Currently, there are 25 regions, with 139 districts and about 3500 wards. The population is about 50 million.

Why do birth registration systems matter in Tanzania?

Centralised systems are maintained both at district headquarters and also at a national level. The records in a centralised system are mainly manual (non-digital) and incomplete as a result of inaccessibility.

This means that although the data collection procedures are more uniform, due to the records not being digitised they are unable to tabulate and report registered birth statistics for wards.

Certification of a birth costs a minimum of 3,500 Tanzanian shillings in a centralised system and the certificate is not given on the same day. For families who have to travel long distances to register a birth at their centralised district office (it’s been recorded that some families travel up to 200 kilometres), the cost of a birth certificate also includes the cost of transport and accommodation.

In a decentralised system, each ward may have its own CRVS laws and procedures that may differ throughout the country. Registration processes, data collection forms, and data items may be inconsistent throughout the country, making tabulations of national statistics more difficult. However, wards can more easily collect items of public health interest to their own areas.

Also, in decentralised systems, individuals have to obtain copies of vital records from the ward - and as wards are more localised than districts - families have to travel shorter distances to get their documentation.

Because decentralised systems allow for individualised laws and procedures, registration can be digital, which will result in a quicker compilation of data for governments and importantly, certification and registration are given at no cost.

What is Chris’s work focused on?

Chris’s work as a Fellow for BD4H centres on comparing four Tanzanian districts for birth registration to compare their completeness for birth registration from 2012 to 2016 – half of the districts in his study are centralised, and the others are decentralised.

Decentralisation in Tanzania would increase access of registration service to people by:

  • increasing number of registration points from 176 district offices to 3,644 ward level offices and even more health facilities in the district
  • reducing steps of registration from three to only one (a handwritten certificate is issued at the time of registration)
  • and free registration and certification (first copy of birth certificate is free).

Chris returns to Tanzania and his work as a statistician at RITA, the Registration Insolvency and Trusteeship Agency in August.

Chris said: “The Data for Health Initiative has been very useful in opening our eyes to rework the way we’re doing things in Tanzania and I’m excited to go back to work and directly apply some of the knowledge I’ve gained during my time in the fellowship working at Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and the University of Melbourne”.

Photo credit (top image): Ritenour

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