The Health Metrics Network, a global partnership sponsored by the World Health Organization, is launching a drive to get countries to register all births and deaths. The World Health Organization says newborn babies who are unregistered miss out on all sorts of social, political and economic benefits for life. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from WHO headquarters in Geneva.

Practically everybody in rich, developed countries is registered at birth. Since these countries are able to keep track of births, deaths and marital status, they are able to allocate their resources wisely.

The World Health Organization says it allows governments to know whether more money should be spent on education or labor or health programs.

The situation is very different in developing countries. The World Health Organization says almost 40 percent of 128 million global births go unregistered and in the least developed countries that figure can go as high as 70 percent.

Carla Abouzahr is Deputy Executive Secretary of the Health Metric Network. She says the statistics on death are even worse. In sub-Sahara Africa, she says only one in every 10 deaths is registered.

"We are currently spending $260 billion a year on assistance for health development and we do not know if that money is being spent wisely as well because the statistics that we need to be able to track the effectiveness of the spending simply are not available," said Abouzahr. "And, they are not available because we do not have good data on who is born and who dies and why they die."

The Health Metric Network is assisting more than 60 low-income countries to improve their registration systems. Abouzahr says the registration drive marks the start of intensive work to help six countries most in need of help.

She says the Network already has started working with Cambodia, Sierra Leone and Syria. By the end of the year, three other countries will be chosen for special assistance.

She describes the case of Sierra Leone, which is emerging from 11 years of civil war. She says the country is receiving a lot of assistance from donors to build up its health system.

"It is going to be absolutely essential that they have a good idea of 'A' what are going to be from the demands on the health system," said Abouzahr. "How many babies are going to be born because that will really influence five, 10, 15 year planning framework for the allocation of resources. And, it is also going to be essential for them to know what is the pattern of mortality that they are facing. You know, are they facing an AIDS epidemic. Are they facing the dual epidemic of, the combination of communicable and non-communicable diseases."

Abouzahr says Sierra Leone cannot answer these questions without knowing who dies and from what cause.

The Health Metric Network says people who are not counted at birth do not count. It says children who are not registered at birth do not legally exist and this deprives them of a wide-range of benefits. It says they can lose out on an education, be stripped of voting rights and left off the social welfare rolls.