Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Birth registration and access to health care: an assessment of Ghana’s campaign success

Sonja Fagernäs & Joyce Odame


Birth registration remains far from complete in many developing countries. This was true of Ghana before a major registration campaign was undertaken.


This study, based on survey data, assesses the results of a registration campaign initiated in 2004–2005 in Ghana. Key strategies included: extending the legal period for free registration of infants; incorporating registration in child health promotion weeks; training community health workers to register births; using community registration volunteers; registering children during celebrations, and piloting community population registers. This paper discusses the contribution of these strategies to the increase in registration rates and shows the degree of association between birth registration and various health-care access indicators and family characteristics.

Local setting

The Ghana Births and Deaths Registry worked together with international organizations, mainly Plan International and the United Nations Children’s Fund, to implement the birth registration campaign.

Relevant changes

Unlike many other sub-Saharan African countries, Ghana saw a substantial rise in registration rates over the campaign period. Campaign strategies improved accessibility and shortened distance to registration centres. Survey data show that the registration rate for children younger than 5 years rose from 44% in 2003 to 71% in 2008.

Lessons learnt

Incorporation of birth registration into community health care, health campaigns and mobile registration activities can reduce the indirect costs of birth registration, especially in poorer communities, and yield substantial increases in registration rates. The link between the health sector and registration activities should be strengthened further and the use of community population registers expanded.