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How Tigo, UNICEF, Births & Deaths Registry worked to pioneer automated birth registration

According to statistics from the Birth and Death Registry in Ghana, more than four in ten children are not registered at birth. And even when children are registered, many still do not have a birth certificate.  About 15 percent of the registered children below the age of five do not own a birth certificate.  

Children who are not registered at birth or without identification documents are at risk of being excluded from accessing education, health care and other basic services. These children are at higher risk of exploitative forms of child labour, trafficking and child marriage. 

Birth registration rates in Ghana has stagnated over the past few years -- a bottleneck study by UNICEF Ghana in 2013 indicated that birth registration coverage rate has not gone beyond 65 percent in Ghana since 2009.

The study also revealed that there was the over-reliance on paper documentation which caused major delays in the registration process and inadequate Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure contributed to poor birth registration rates.

To help eliminate the bottlenecks and significantly increase the birth registration rate, telecom operator Tigo partnered with UNICEF Ghana and Births and Deaths Registry (BDR) to develop a new ‘Automated Birth Registration’ system to make birth registration process widely accessible and efficient.
 
With this innovation, Tigo and UNICEF are making positive and significant contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals 9 (Innovation and Infrastructure) and 17 (Partnership for the Goals) respectively. The partnership showcased the role mobile providers can play in addressing a pressing social need through the application of their technology and expertise, and investing in infrastructure and innovation are crucial drivers of economic growth and development. 

Among others, the Automated Birth Registration system sought to give every child the right to a legal identity and to protect the country’s future generation from social risks, help the Registry attain its goal of achieving a 90 percent birth registration coverage rate by end of 2017, migrate the birth registration process from manual to a seamless digital process, etc. 

The system is an Android App which operates in both offline and online mode ensuring that birth information can be captured in real time. Tablets use the mobile app to collect data related to the child’s name, gender, date of birth and other family details, which are then sent to the central database managed by the Births and Deaths Registry. 

Once received, the data is stored and an automated response is sent to the Births and Deaths Registry official on the field, confirming that a certificate can be issued.  Whereas data collected through the paper-based system takes six months to be registered in the central system, the mobile registration process achieves this in less than two minutes.

Following the successful implementation of the pre-pilot phase, which saw nearly 8,000 new births being registered - 400 more registrations than the same period a year earlier, Tigo, UNICEF and the Births and Deaths Registry launched a pilot in May 2016 across the country, covering 300 communities in eight out of 10 the regions in Ghana.  

The ongoing pilot project, which registers children under one for free is yielding results. From May 2016 to May 2017, new births registered were 328,882; this marks a significant shift in accelerating birth registration in the country, after years of stagnation. It is expected that this positive trend would continue as partners’ plan to scale-up the project to other communities.

The Births and Deaths Registry data analysis from last year showed a significantly increased level of efficiencies in the system. It has eliminated the paper based trail of writing the details of children on paper, scanning and saving on an external drive before sending to the regional offices for onward transmission to headquarters before the certificate is issued and the paper document filed in the storeroom. 

It has enabled a real-time birth registration performance check without waiting for months until the data reaches the Head office. With real-time data at hands, it also made it possible to check the performance by various level of registries- community, district and regional levels. Therefore, it enables Head office and regional offices to make a follow-up plan to address challenges in lower performing areas, and encourage regions to make the best efforts.

The Automated Birth Registration system has received recognition on local and international platforms. It was showcased at the 71st UN General Assembly in October 2016 to business and world leaders including Ghana’s former President John Dramani Mahama, Dr David Nabarro, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Climate Change, Kathy Calvin, President and CEO of the UN Foundation.

The innovative system also won the “Changing Lives” category award at the 2016 AfricaCom Awards held in Cape Town, South Africa. AfricaCom is the biggest gathering of all African telecom service providers and vendors to network, showcase and discusses new and emerging technologies. It also celebrates the contributions of outstanding operators. 

The automated system has shown that it can hugely increase birth registration coverage, including hard-to-reach areas of Ghana.  It is expected that the new system will help the Registry attain its goal of achieving a 90 percent birth registration coverage rate by end of 2017.