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Data for Health Program Expands into Budget Advocacy and Sustainability

By Sara Rossi

The Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) is excited to announce that its Data for Health program has added a new focus area that will further support global efforts to improve low- and middle-income countries’ public health data systems: budget advocacy and sustainability. This program expansion is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies through GHAI’s involvement in the Data for Health Initiative.

GHAI’s role in the Data for Health Initiative has, until now, focused on overseeing legal reviews, a process that culminates in a set of legal and policy recommendations for countries to strengthen their civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems, which can be endorsed by leaders and used as the basis for reform. Translating these recommendations into policy and practice requires financial resources to catalyze the systems changes and sustain the gains over time. This is where budget advocacy can be transformative in ensuring financial sustainability of CRVS system improvements.

Budget advocacy is an approach to influence public sector resource allocation through engagement in the budgeting process. Demand for budget advocacy support has emerged as a priority across many Data for Health Initiative countries. However, to date there has not been guidance on how countries can identify funding opportunities and secure investments from their own governments and other in-country sources in order to sustainably finance CRVS system improvements.

Civil registration is the system by which a government records the occurrence and characteristics of vital events (including births, marriages, and deaths) of its citizens and residents. Civil registration records are used to generate population-level vital statistics and to manage population registers and national identification systems.

CRVS systems are chronically underfunded around most of the world, with massive implications for individual human rights, country governance and global development. Despite significant global progress in recent years and widespread recognition of the importance of investing in CRVS, more than 100 low- and middle-income countries still have low functioning CRVS systems, characterized by insufficient levels of political priority and funding.1 Underinvestment in CRVS systems in some countries is further exacerbated by the withdrawal of donors, particularly as the economies of middle-income countries grow, putting CRVS programs and services – and ultimately, people’s health and rights – at risk.

In light of the pressing CRVS financing challenges countries face (including increased short-term costs associated with reform and reductions in international funding), it is increasingly important that domestic resources be used to support CRVS system improvements, such as digitalization, scaling up services, and training registrars or health providers on best practices.

GHAI is helping to fill this gap by adding budget advocacy and financial sustainability to its Data for Health technical portfolio, spearheaded by a dedicated team. GHAI will be working closely with global, regional and country Data for Health partners over the coming year to develop and pilot-test new, evidence-based tools that will guide country stakeholders through a step-by-step process to locate, secure and effectively manage the domestic financing that is necessary to support robust and well-functioning CRVS systems.

These resources will be designed to complement and strengthen existing Data for Health tools and efforts but will also be useable independent of other interventions. They will provide practical, actionable guidance for country CRVS advocates to own and lead a multi-stakeholder process to create, design and execute locally led advocacy strategies that foster sustainability – following the tenets of GHAI’s proven advocacy approach and adapted from GHAI’s established budget advocacy model.

Stay tuned for updates on GHAI’s forthcoming Budget Advocacy Framework for CRVS Sustainability and related training tools in early 2023. In the meantime, you can learn more about GHAI’s Data for Health program here.

1 SDSN TReNDS and Open Data Watch (2018). Civil registration and vital statistics benefit health, child protection, and governance: a case study on the return on investment for CRVS systems. Available here: https://opendatawatch.com/publications/crvs-benefit-health-children-governance/.