UGANDA — The Mobile Vital Records System (VRS) is among the newest technologies in Uganda. Its goal is to raise the rate of birth registrations in the country.
According to a 2014 World Bank report, Uganda’s fertility rate is 5.8 births per woman, one of the highest in the world. However, the 2011 Uganda Health Demographic Survey reported that only 30 percent of children under the age of five had their birth registered. Moreover, out of those registered, just 17 percent had a birth certificate.
Ugandan law requires children be registered at birth. This provides official documentation that the child exists, and gives them access to certain government services, such as education, healthcare, and protection. If a child’s birth is not registered, these services are not granted.
The 2011 Health Demographic Survey shows that 57 percent of births in Uganda took place in a health facility, while 42 percent occurred at home. Before this new technology in Uganda, birth registration was a manual process that required considerable time and effort, and it often was an expense that parents could not afford.
For children born outside of a health facility, it was sometimes necessary for parents to travel great distances to notify the government of their child’s birth. Furthermore, many parents in rural areas were not aware of the process. Even at a facility, the Ugandan birth registration process was marred by tedium and a significant backlog.
In 2010 the Uganda government began working on a resolution. With the support of UNICEF and Uganda Telecom, a new method of Ugandan birth registration began development and testing. The Mobile VRS was the result.
According to its website, for births outside of a health facility, birth notifications get sent to the National Identification and Registration Authority, or NIRA, using mobile phones. As of this year, NIRA is the government office that oversees the registration process. For births that take place in health facilities, the birth information gets uploaded to the Mobile VRS server at the NIRA office using a web-based system.
A 2012 UNICEF report explains the process: “At the community level…the program leverages high existing mobile phone ownership rates to collect and send information.” It reports that the people who send the information “are usually local leaders at village level working on a voluntary basis”.
Data sent to a central server at NIRA is available for registration officers of designated areas to view and verify the information. Once deemed complete and accurate, a birth certificate gets issued.
The UNICEF report also explains the process that health facilities use: “Sub-county offices and hospitals are supplied with basic hardware, including low-power netbooks and printers.” Hospital employees enter the data into a web-based form, the information gets validated, and a birth certificate issued.
The improvements in Ugandan birth registration were most recently documented in UNICEF’s 2014 Annual Report on Uganda, which states that “since the introduction of MVRS, the national percentage of registered under five children increased from 30 per cent in 2011 to an estimated 60.05 per cent in December 2014”. The results are only expected to get better as time goes on.
– Kristin Westad