By Vanina Trojan, Plan Ireland Programme Coordinator,
It is with great pleasure that I share the news that the Plan Ireland was awarded a major accolade at the Dochas (Irish Association of Non-Governmental Development Organisations) annual conference held last week. Our ‘Promoting Birth Registration for Children’s Development and Protection’ won the most ‘Innovative Programme of the Year’ prize.
The programme utilises innovation and technology to tackle the serious problem of low birth registration rates in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
An absence of a proper system to register children’s births is leaving children at risk and hampering the government’s capacity to effectively plan and predict future population trends. Unregistered children often face increased difficulties when accessing basic rights and benefits, such as education, health, social protection and participation in social and political life. While a lack of accurate population data has rendered long-term population planning far more difficult.
To date, the birth registration system in Sierra Leone and Liberia has been largely paper based. This has resulted in a disorganised, uncoordinated and haphazard system. Furthermore, a lack of collaboration among relevant stakeholders has resulted in incomplete, unreliable and ineffective nation-wide population data.
The project has addressed the problem through a multi-level strategy that facilitates mass registration of children. The programme reaches out at community level, trains government officials and advocates for law and public policy changes.
The innovation award was conferred on the basis that the programme maximises technology to address the key barriers to birth registration. Some of the principle barriers include long distances to the local registration offices and high costs associated with registration.
Thanks to the programme, digital software has replaced the paper-based registration system. Frontline health workers are now using mobile devise to register births at village level, while there is now a secure web-based database to store, analyse and produce vital statistics that government agencies can access for planning services and monitoring population trends.
The digitalisation of the birth registration system is a cost-effective, sustainable and replicable way to strengthen birth registration systems, improve governance and enable governmental accountability.
The programme enables the development of a coherent and consistent birth registration process at all levels. Margin of errors –and instances of fraud – are reduced and the flow of vital data from local to district and national levels is more systematic. This will improve the availability of up-to-date population statistics that, in turn, will be essential for the purpose of good governance and adequate allocation of resources.
In its first two years, the programme has enabled the registration of 445,188 children; 205,554 in Liberia and 239,634 in Sierra Leone. In Liberia, registration of children under 13 in the targeted counties jumped from 4% in 2012 to 39.2% in 2014. In Sierra Leone, registration of children under 5 increased from 51% in 2012 to 67.2% in 2014.
I was delighted to be part of an inspiring award ceremony and to receive the award on behalf of the programme team. Competition was intense with over twenty programmes submitted, a final shortlist of five was selected with our winning entry being chosen by an external panel comprising individuals from different sectors.
I have been managing this programmes since its inception in 2012 and I know that this award is a well-deserved recognition of the hard and innovative work of all the Plan and partner colleagues who were involved in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ireland and at the international level.
This award could not come at a better time. With the Ebola humanitarian emergency almost under control, we are now starting discussions regarding how to move forward and reinstate programme activity. It is my hope and belief that this award will bring a new wave of enthusiasm and energy to our brave colleagues in Liberia and Sierra Leone and will provide a positive opportunity to refocus and improve programmatic implementation by capitalising on the best practices and lessons learned.
I also believe that this award will provide new gravitas to the success of the programme and will enable us to explore new funding avenues at the domestic and international levels, including by targeting private ICT companies and other corporations and social enterprises.
I am looking forward therefore to leveraging this award and reaching over and beyond the scope and the time of the programme, towards the many children that still remain undocumented and invisible in Sierra Leone, Liberia and elsewhere.