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Why death data is the key to improved healthcare

Death data ‘key to quality healthcare’

Many deaths are unregistered in Kenya

Many deaths in Kenya are not registered, making it challenging for the government to improve public healthcare, especially maternal, nutrition and adolescent health.

Kenya’s head of Civil Registration Janet Mucheru said only 40.5 per cent of deaths were registered as at the end of last year. Speaking at the Fifth Conference of African Ministers responsible for civil registration held in Zambia last week, Mucheru said the number of maternal and neonatal death registration is critical for the realisation of universal healthcare under the government's Big Four Agenda.

The conference brought together statistics and health experts from all over Africa to share knowledge and discuss new innovations in civil registration for legal identity management.

In Kenya, deaths are usually registered by chiefs and their assistants who usually issue burial permits. Despite this, many deaths are still unregistered. “We will do a survey to determine why most of these deaths are unregistered,” said Mucheru.

Delegates at the conference said registering deaths and their causes helps governments and development partners make strategic interventions to address preventable causes of deaths such as respiratory diseases, HIV and diarrhoea.


Kenya was, however, praised for increased efforts to register births. As at last year, birth registration stood at 74 per cent and Mucheru estimates that it could be now be slightly over 80 per cent because of new strategies such as registration of children during immunisation.

To date, the government has digitised 32 million records to help solve the problem of double registration and will embark on improving quality on causes of death certification.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended death certification curriculum as part of medical education to improve the quality of cause-of-deaths statistics and make such data available on a timely basis. “We need to train our chiefs as well on how to capture the data on deaths and report on time,” said Mucheru.

WHO affirms that causes-of deaths statistics are the most important piece of health information as they “provide key information on what males and females are dying of, where it happens and at what age”.

Training will help avoid errors in death certification such as writing only the immediate cause of death and not the underlying cause. For instance, in the event of accidents, the nature of the injury should be recorded and differentiating between the causes.

Mucheru said the government was advocating a unique number identification at birth which will be deactivated at death.