Who counts? 1. A scandal of invisibility: making everyone count by counting everyone
Author(s): Setel P, Macfarlane S, Szreter S, Mikkelson L, Jha P, Stout S, and AbouZahr C on behalf of the MoVE writing committee
Most people in Africa and Asia are born and die without leaving a trace in any legal record or official statistic. Absence of reliable data for births, deaths, and causes of death are at the root of this scandal of invisibility, which renders most of the world's poor as unseen, uncountable, and hence uncounted. This situation has arisen because, in some countries, civil registration systems that log crucial statistics have stagnated over the past 30 years. Net of debt relief, official development assistance reached US$80 billion in 2004. Yet because of the weakness in recording vital statistics, we have little authoritative evidence that these funds have their desired effects on either mortality or poverty reduction. Sound recording of vital statistics and cause of death data are public goods that enable progress towards Millennium Development Goals and other development objectives that need to be measured, not only modelled. Vital statistics are most effectively generated by comprehensive civil registration. Civil registration has a dual function, both statistical and legal; it also helps with economic development. 30 years of stagnation will not be overcome quickly, although new efforts to develop national statistical capacities offer a unique opportunity to refocus attention on civil registration. Now is the time to make the long-term goal of comprehensive civil registration in developing countries the expectation rather than the exception. The international health community can assist by sharing information and methods to ensure both the quality of vital statistics and cause of death data, and the appropriate use of complementary and interim registration systems and sources of such data. The continued cost of ignorance borne by countries without civil registration far outweighs the affordable necessity of action.
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