Scientists have found that as many as 40 million new births and 40 million deaths in the world are undocumented every year. University of Melbourne Laureate Professor Alan Lopez, one of the lead authors, has been leading a global campaign to improve how countries capture civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS).

The four-paper series promote the case to change CRVS systems to collect more reliable and timely data.

Lopez said that policy should be informed by accurate and timely data, as poor quality data equals to poor decisions, which in turn leads to lost opportunities to improve population health. In remote areas where there are no doctors, CRVS improvements could include family members of deceased responding to a limited number of questions about symptoms experienced by the deceased which an algorithm using big data samples would then analyse to record a most-likely cause of death, Professor he said.

He said other technology advances could also be exploited such as using mobile phones to transmit information about recent cases of births and deaths, as “mobile phones are now common virtually everywhere”.

The first Lancet series paper looks at the current landscape of CVRS. It highlights inconsistent recordkeeping worldwide, and argues for marked improvements in order to gather better statistics to help policy makers make better decisions. The second paper makes the case that good CRVS data is not only required for informing health policies, but that it is also actually good for health. In the third paper, the authors monitor the development of existing CRVS systems and its limited growth.

The concluding paper presents a research and development agenda for CRVS and challenges global health and development agencies to ensure that every birth and death is registered, and every decision-maker has detailed, continuous and locally relevant information needed to support policy and planning.

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