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  • Asia-Pacific commits to improving health data systems

[MANILA] Strengthening the gathering of population data will improve the delivery of health services and the quality of life in most developing Asian economies, a conference has heard.

This argument emerged during the High-level Meeting on the Improvement of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) in Asia and the Pacific held in Bangkok, Thailand, earlier this month (December 10-11). 

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Participants agreed that improving systems for recording important population data — including those related to birth, adoption, marriage, divorce and death — will enable policymakers to use the collected information to implement programmes geared towards meeting the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Possessing documents such as birth certificates and registration papers would also allow people to access public services, search for jobs, cast votes, claim inheritance, obtain a passport, buy property and open bank accounts.

"The high-level meeting recognised that a majority of countries in Asia and the Pacific have inadequate systems," says Haishan Fu, director of the statistics division at the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

A study presented at the conference by Lene Mikkelsen, a health information specialist at the University of Queensland, Australia, revealed the uneven development of CRVS systems in the Asia-Pacific.

Of the 41 Asian countries covered by the study, only nine have systems capable of producing data that are reliable, timely and useable for all planning purposes, Mikkelsen says.

Ten countries have systems that are 'functional' but that require attention in some areas, and the rest either have dysfunctional or weak CRVS systems.

According to Fu, senior health and civil registration officials from 23 member countries made commitments to strengthen CRVS systems in the Asia-Pacific region and in their respective countries.

They would do so by supporting and implementing the provisions of the 'Make Every Life Count: Regional Strategic Plan for the Improvement of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics in Asia and the Pacific', which was passed during the two-day meeting, she says.

As part of the regional plan, the countries agreed that over the period 2012-2020, they would invest in, formulate and enforce plans to upgrade their CRVS systems, and use the resultant statistics to drive policymaking.

Fu says this is important because the CRVS system within each nation is the responsibility of several ministries rather than only one. It is therefore crucial that heads of government make CRVS a national priority, she argues.

"When those different ministries talk, they will realise where the gaps and problems are. Once those [issues] are identified, countries can start defining national improvement plans," she says.

Fu also says that more funding has to be given to CRVS systems and notes that the "present deplorable situation" regarding CVRS in the region is due to a lack of funding and coordination among agencies.

The two-day meeting in Bangkok was organised by ESCAP in collaboration with the WHO and other UN and civil society partners.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.

Link to Make Every Life Count Regional Strategic Plan

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