Uganda has low levels of death registration, estimated at two per cent by the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA). There are 56 tribes and over 5 religious denominations with so many social norms and religious practices that could have contributed to low death registration in Uganda. Previous studies on the factors affecting death registration have not assessed the contribution of social norms and religious practices toward low death registration in developing countries.
A qualitative study design was adopted to examine the contribution of social norms and religious practices toward low death registration in the 3 Health and Demographic Surveillance systems (HDSS) sites of Uganda. The methods of data collection included: focus group discussions, key informant interviews, and a document review of the death registration booklet. 6 FGDs, 2 from each HDSS site were conducted comprising 1 female FGD of 10 participants and 1 male FGD of 10 participants. In addition, 26 key informant interviews were conducted with the district leaders, local council leaders, health care workers, cultural leaders, elderly, HDSS scouts and religious leaders in the 3 HDSS sites.
In the 4 sub-counties and 1 town council where the study was conducted, only 32 deaths were registered with NIRA, the Civil Registration authority in Uganda for the entire year from 1st January to 31st December 2020. The study shows that social norms and religious practices have contributed to the low death registration in the 3 HDSS sites in Uganda. Social norms and religious practices either hinder or discourage death registration initiatives by the government of Uganda. It was found out that burials that take place on the same day of death discourage death registration. Cultural taboo to announcing the death of infants, neonates, twins and suicides in the community hinder death registration. The burying of a woman at her parent’s house after bride price payment default by the family of a husband discourages death registration. The religious institutions have their own set of rules, practices, and norms, which in most cases discourage death registration. For example, religious leaders refuse to lead funeral prayers for non-active members in religious activities. Results also showed that mixed religions in families bring about conflicts that undermine death registration. Lastly, results showed that traditionalists do not seek medical treatment in hospitals and this hinders death registration at the health facilities.
The study shows that death registration is very low in the 3 HDSS sites in Uganda and that social norms and religious practices contribute greatly to the low death registration. To overcome the negative effects of social norms and religious practices, a social behaviour campaign is proposed. In addition, community dialogue should be conducted to identify all negative social norms and religious practices, how they are perpetuated, their effects, and how they can be renegotiated or eliminated to bring about high death registration in the 3 HDSS sites of Uganda. Lastly, there is a need for partnerships with cultural and religious leaders to sensitize community members on the effect of social norms and religious practices on low death registration in the 3 HDSS sites in Uganda.