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Abstract Paper‐based village registers were introduced 5 years ago in Malawi as a tool to measure vital statistics of births and deaths at the population level. However, usage, completeness and accuracy of their content have
never been formally evaluated. In Traditional Authority Mwambo, Zomba district, Malawi, we assessed 280 of the 325 village registers with respect to (i) characteristics of village headmen who used village registers, (ii) use and content of village registers, and (iii) whether village registers
provided accurate information on births and deaths. All village headpersons used registers. There were 185 (66%) registers that were regarded as 95% completed, and according to the registers, there were 115 840 people living in the villages in the catchment area. In 2011, there were 1753
births recorded in village registers, while 6397 births were recorded in health centre registers in the same catchment area. For the same year, 199 deaths were recorded in village registers, giving crude death rates per 100 000 population of 189 for males and 153 for females. These could
not be compared with death rates in health centre registers due to poor and inconsistent recording in these registers, but they were compared with death rates obtained from the 2010 Malawi Demographic Health Survey that reported 880 and 840 per 100 000 for males and females, respectively.
In conclusion, this study shows that village registers are a potential source for vital statistics. However, considerable inputs are needed to improve accuracy of births and deaths, and there are no functional systems for the collation and analysis of data at the traditional authority level.
Innovative ways to address these challenges are discussed, including the use of solar‐powered electronic village registers and mobile phones, connected with each other and the health facilities and the District Commissioner's office through the cellular network and wireless coverage.