The unexpected resilience of the African countries during the Covid-19 pandemic has left experts puzzled.

Some attribute the continent’s success to its timely response and effective measures, whereas others emphasise its favorable climate or young population. However, a fair amount of cases and deaths are believed to be unreported, hence creating a warped perception of the pandemic’s true impact on the continent.

This underreporting is largely due to inappropriate testing rates and a wide-spread absence of efficient systems. For example, in Ghana, each death is recorded by hand, which increases the likeliness of error. An accurate infection and mortality count is especially difficult knowing that there are currently around 1-billion people, the majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa, who go without any sort of legal identification.

Mindaugas Glodas, CEO of NRD Companies, a global IT and consulting group of companies specialising in e-governance, says it is crucially important for Africa to have accurate statistics and hold the virus under control.

“What happens in Africa has a huge influence on the rest of the world, and vice versa,” says Glodas. “If African countries manage to effectively contain the spread of the virus, then it is a win-win situation for everyone.”

He believes it all comes down to having a well-functioning civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) system in each African country.

“It is a whole lot easier to deal with the pandemic if you simply know the people living in your country,” says Glodas. “CRVS is a prerequisite to this knowledge and is the foundation of the national identification system. From it springs a variety of possibilities to control the outbreak – contact tracing, counting the deceased, properly coordinating vaccination, and portraying an accurate picture of the situation.”

He adds that there are four key elements needed to be addressed to ensure an effective CRVS system: legal framework, technology, institutional and organizational setting, and services.

“A strong legal and regulatory framework aligned with international law protects the confidentiality of personal data and ensures that data can be securely shared between approved departments,” says Glodas. “Technology allows extending registration coverage, standardizing and streamlining processes, and integrating data, all at a low cost, while governmental support and commitment of all stakeholders provides necessary resources.

“Finally, services themselves have to be backed by demand for registration certifying documents that are generated by other sectors, fiscal or incentives to register, and other factors.”

He points out that some developing countries such as Samoa and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) have already recognised the importance of CRVS and, with the help of NRD companies, are developing an implementation strategy even amidst the pandemic. He said that for Africa to avoid such scenarios in the future and ensure legit data, civil registration should be viewed as a cornerstone of any post-Covid strategy.

“We have already seen with Ebola, measles, and other diseases in Africa how vitally important it is to have a functioning civil registration system,” says Glodas. “Yet this time gives a unique opportunity for African nations to include CRVS into their top priorities in recovery packages. It is not enough to eradicate the results of the crisis – it is much more important to go to the root cause of the problem and start there.”

Glodas concludes that if African countries do not start introducing CRVS systems there will be few opportunities to control the outbreak. “It is better to begin now and reap the benefits later.”