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Hey Baby, What’s Your Number?

  • June 28, 2018
  • Michael’s Blog
Michael J. Nyenhuis

Michael J. Nyenhuis

Americares President and CEO Michael J. Nyenhuis leads a health-focused relief and development organization that saves lives and improves health for people affected by poverty or disaster.

It’s a human right to have a birth certificate.

We’ve had a baby boom here at Americares global headquarters in Connecticut: Our staff welcomed six babies over five weeks this spring. I haven’t calculated what that means for our birth rate percentage-wise, but let’s just say it is up there.

Little Elowen, Evelyn, Ginny, Lily, Stanley and Teddy are very fortunate. They have loving parents who will provide for their basic needs. Each was delivered safely at a good hospital and will have access to quality health care. They will be raised in safe communities and have access to quality schools and opportunities galore.

And (this is a big deal) — each baby has a birth certificate!

Why is that important? I recently read that one-quarter of the 130 million babies born worldwide each year — or more than 30 million newborns — come into the world and receive no official record at their birth. They live in countries and communities with inconsistent vital records systems or are born at home in remote places where no such records are kept.

Birth certificates are keys that unlock human rights: They confer legal status to an individual, who can then take full advantage of the rights available to them — to access education and social services, own property, vote and more.

These legal documents are also important in the fields of global health and development. Vital records like birth and death certificates make a person visible and are, therefore, critical inputs when tracking progress, or the lack of it, toward reducing poverty and disease and increasing education, employment and development. Yet billions of people live in places with weak civil registration and vital statistics systems.


Last week the United Nations delivered its annual report on progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals. These are 17 ambitious goals on poverty, health and equality agreed to in 2015 by 150 nations with targets set to be met by 2030. Secretary General António Guterres reported progress on most goals, but at a pace that is too slow to reach the targets. He called for a heightened sense of urgency if the goals are to be met.

A flaw in the system of tracking these goals is that too many people live invisibly because of poor records and documentation. How can we know what is happening to them?

Gratefully, there is a major effort underway to correct this problem with a clear focus on ensuring that birth and death certificates are available everywhere. Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Australian government are working on a four-year, $100 million initiative with 20 low- and middle-income countries to dramatically improve vital records management. It is a worthy effort.

These important records must be available to everyone, just as they are to our new Americares babies.