Only eight African countries out of more than 50 have a compulsory system to register deaths, a BBC investigation has found.
This is not just a failure of the state to recognise individual tragedies but has enormous implications for the making of government policy.
All but two countries in Europe – Albania and Monaco – have a universal death registration system, and in Asia, just over half, analysis of UN data shows.
But in Africa it is only Egypt, South Africa, Tunisia, Algeria, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Seychelles and Mauritius that have what are called functioning, compulsory and universal civil registration systems – known as CRVS systems – which record deaths.
All of the countries surveyed by the BBC, working with researchers from the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), do have some sort of death registration.
But it is often on paper and not available in a shareable digitised form. The information may be used in a local area but cannot calculate mortality trends on a national level.