By Rukiya Makuma
Birth and death records go digital
At 12 noon on Sept.14, Joseph Mutebi, was all wrapped up in shawls and cuddled up in his mother’s tender embrace. He was just one day old and, with baby eyes still tightly closed, was totally oblivious of the excitement he was attracting in the boardroom below the main maternity ward of Uganda’s main health facility, Mulago Referral Hospital in Kampala.
Journalists scampered to take pictures of the lucky baby. He was becoming the first person in Uganda to be registered in a new electronic birth registration system and the hospital Executive Director, Dr Baterana Byaruhanga and his deputy and a bevy of nurses and doctors swirled around. His mother, still weak from the delivery, fidgeted a little at the attention her son was getting but otherwise bore the event stoically knowing that getting your baby registered at birth and given his birth certificates does not happen every day in Uganda.
10 minutes later, with the fidgeting out of the way, she proudly shows off her son’s certificate. Cameras clicked away one final time and little Mutebi shifted slightly in the shawls. He was lucky and will never experience what other Ugandans go through to get a birth certificate.
He will not have to fight for space and attention in the Uganda Registration Service Bureau (URSB) offices in Kampala, the sole issuer of certificates. He will never hear about the horrendous tales of “this is my third week here but I have not been given my birth certificate”.
Mutebi was registered under a venture Partnered between United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Uganda Telecom (UTL), URBS and Mulago hospital. Under the programme, all babies born in Mulago after Sept 14 will get instant birth registration details and walk out the hospital with their birth certificate.
Mulago was chosen as the pilot project before extending the service to other hospitals and health centres across the country because it records the highest births in one facility in Uganda; 30,000 births out of the 1.5 million births annually.
Though registration of children gives one a sense of identity and belonging, many Ugandans have not enjoyed that right. Over 79 percent of the children below the age of five are not registered. Most parents either are not aware of the need for a birth certificate, cannot afford the Shs 20,000 for the birth certificate, or unable to endure the long trips to the registration bureau in Kampala.
The new system intends to ensure that information on births and deaths is captured and transmitted via mobile phone under a Mobile Vital Records System. It will cover births and death in and out of the medical health system from the community and from hospitals and store it in a cenral government server.
Children born in hospitals will be able to receive their birth certificates within three months after birth at a cost of Shs 1000 for the short certificates and Shs 7000 for the long certificates which go for Shs 20,000 at the URSB Kampala offices. Certificates for rural based clients will be collected from their sub-counties administration offices.
“Every detail will be saved on the computer unlike before where information was saved manually in files which could be easily destroyed. Here we will keep track of all the information which can be retrieved anytime when one wants it,” says David Nuwamanya, the Assistant Commissioner for support Services at Mulago Hospital.
May Anyabolu, the Deputy UNICEF Country Representative says a globalised world dictates that one has identity which cannot be possible if such systems which capture important details are not in place.
“A child who is not registered is at a disadvantage because he/she lacks identity yet the law requires that children are registered and have an identity,” she says.
She applauded URBS for the initiative because it will be the first in its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa and hoped it will increase Birth Registration for children under 5 years from 21 percent today to 80 percent by 2014.
Though birth registration, according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), is the starting point for the official recognition and protection of every child’s fundamental right to identity and existence, it has been greatly ignored. In Uganda, only one out of every child born is registered and in sub-Saharan Africa, 64 percent of the children have not been registered according to the UNICEF.
Denis Paul Kavuma, the Corporate and Small Medium Enterprise Business Manager at UTL says since accessing this data has been a major challenge, UTL decided to partner with UNICEF as a Social Corporate Responsibility.
He said it will help government collect statistics of people especially now that census is near. “The system will also help government to plan better and monitor national population statistics since the information will be easily accessible with an automated system.
Anthony Ojuk Oyuk the Head of Civil Registration at URSB says registration of births and deaths has been hampered by limited funding, low levels of awareness among the users who never followed up to process their birth certificates, the cost involved in processing a certificate especially if one has to travel from the rural area to Kampala, and the lack of registration materials at all health centres. He says the digital registration will be quicker and cheaper.
Nalwanga Rebecca Balwana, an advocate for children’s rights and also the Woman MP for Luweero District says having a national birth and death registration system will help enforce minimum age requirements for labour, marriage, and child protection.