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Connecting national ID and health systems can boost civil registration

CRVS and ACSA in focus on Day 4 of ID4Africa
Connecting national ID and health systems can boost civil registration

Experts from development organizations supporting civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) efforts around the world have reiterated the need to link national identity and health systems as a way of accelerating efficient and sustainable civil registration.

This was the kernel of one of five workshops on the last day of the 2024 ID4Africa annual general meeting in Cape Town, South Africa.The theme of the event was “Digital Identity as DPI: Fostering Trust, Inclusion & Adoption.”

The workshops provided an opportunity for speakers from development, partner organizations, and technical solution providers such as UNICEF, UNHCR, Vital Strategies and OpenCRVS as well as government representatives in charge of civil registration in some African countries, to cross views on how to change the civil registration narrative on the continent.

Massive challenges generally stand on the way of civil registration in many African countries due to a miscellany of factors.

Opening the workshop, the moderator and Director of Child Protection at UNICEF, Sheema Sen Gupta, said civil registration must be taken with all the seriousness it deserves because every identity system starts with and relies on it.

She posited that civil registration should now be considered an urgency if countries hope to achieve their legal and digital identity goals, and this means tremendous and expedited efforts are required. Such efforts, she added, should be powered by enormous collaboration and prioritization, which includes aspects such as harmonizing siloed citizen registration databases.

Speaking on how civil registration can be leveraged through the integration of national identity and health systems, UNICEF’s legal identity specialist, Bhaskar Mishra, shared the UN agency’s CRVSID framework and the how it can be successfully implemented, like has been the case in some countries such as The Gambia which has been able to register nearly 70 percent of the population for CRVSID in a short spell.

The CRVSID is a framework proposed by UNICEF which pushes for the full integration of national ID and health systems in order to speed up the rate of birth registration in Africa. It aligns with the UN’s legal identity agenda.

Mishra noted that as countries keep adopting the system, about 70 percent of health facilities in 45 African countries are interoperable with the ID system of those countries, facilitating civil registration in large part. However, a lot more needs to be done and a number of factors have to be considered when undertaking to integrate ID and health platforms, the official added. He also shared information on key points to note about the CRVSID system, how to establish it using different approaches, examples of some countries already operating the framework, and the tremendous impact it has on civil registration for a country.

As part of the discussions, civil registration executives from some countries including Benin, Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, Zambia, and Zimbabwe shared their respective experiences with civil registration, and the use of the CRVSID framework. The presentations showed the countries are at different levels of civil registration and the processes are plagued by a litany of problems that need to be tackled head-on.

In Nigeria, for example, the Chairman of the Nigeria Population Commission (NPC), Nasir Issa Kwarra, said despite the challenges, there has been great improvement in birth registration since the launch of the digital CRVS system last year. He mentioned that going forward, they plan to register about 10 million births before this year runs out.

In a sperate but related segment, which focussed on leveraging digital public goods to boost civil registration, other countries including Uganda, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, and Somalia and all shared how they are using the OpenCVRS platform for civil registration either on pilots or full-scale deployments. They shared reasons for choosing it in the first place, the challenges faced on the field, results achieved, lessons learnt and the plans for the future. OpenCRVS launched a new version of the platform in March.

ACSA will provide a unified, standardized approach to digitizing CRVS

Segment two of this discussion dwelled on the normative aspect of the African digital Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Shared Asset (ACSA) which was proposed at the ID4Africa AGM in Kenya, which stakeholders are currently working to see it materialize.

A collaborative framework for the ACSA was announced last month.

The moderator, Sen Gupta, set the stage for the discussion by briefly mentioning what ACSA is, how it will function and the goal it intends to achieve. “It will be a system led, owned and managed by African countries themselves.” she stated, adding that the idea is to speed up and streamline the digitization of civil registration processes in African countries in line with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the UN SDG 16.9. It will establish design principles and data standards for digitising civil registration systems.

UNICEF Consultant and one of those involved in the initiative, Cornelius Williams, presented a quick update on the ongoing work, announcing that eleven countries have been selected as pioneer members of the advisory body, which is expected to advise on policy direction for the initiative whose ambition is to create a lead platform to accelerate CVRS digitization in Africa, while supporting and accompanying member countries at different stages of their civil registration progress.

The advisory board members are from Angola, Benin, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Zambia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. They will meet in June to set up their executive body and also develop the terms of reference.

“The efficiency of the ACSA system will not be possible if the digitization of civil registration systems is not made a reality. ACSA is not a development partner-led initiative,” said Williams, adding that such digitization will not happen without a legal framework. “ACSA is a journey that promises to be exciting and now is the time for Africa.”

James Mwanza, technical advisor at Vital Strategies underlined the importance of the ACSA initiative, saying “unless we have a unified and coordinated approach in the digitization of our civil registration systems, it will be difficult to make great progress.”

UNICEF and other partner organizations pledged their willingness to offer continuous support in any way possible to ensure that civil registration makes a headway in Africa.

The final workshop, chaired by GovStack and the Centre for DPI, focussed on the relationship between digital public infrastructure and digital public goods. The discussion delved into finding a balance between data interoperability and privacy protection, as well as the relative merits of centralized and decentralized approaches to DPI and DPGs.

Meanwhile, the other workshops of the last day of ID4Africa AGM 2024 touched on aspects related to cyber security for identity professionals, bridging the inclusion gap by putting in place inclusive ID systems, and practical guides on making choices for the right national identity system.

As the curtains fall on what has been described by attendees as an exciting ID4Africa 2024 AGM in South Africa, all eyes are now turned to Addis Ababa for the next gathering of the world’s identity stakeholders in a year’s time.

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