How biometric technology can boost immunization in developing nations

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Tokyo, Japan: Biometrics is being used in the Science and Technology field for past some decades. But to an extent, the use has been limited, largely to the purpose of authentication, identification, access control, surveillance and security.

Biometrics, probably, for the first time is being explore and use to improve the coverage of immunization. For this two tech companies and a vaccine group have joined their hands to work together on this new project.

Gavi, a vaccine alliance, NEC Corporation and Simprints Technology Ltd., have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the use of biometrics to improve immunization coverage in developing countries.

In this, biometric technology led project, Gavi will combine its long experience and expertise in immunization with Simprints’ biometric fingerprint technology and NEC’s reinforced authentication engine to help create digital identities for children, aged 1-5 years.

“NEC is pleased to contribute to Gavi’s activities around the world through the application of its fingerprint authentication technologies. NEC aims to realize a safe, secure, efficient and equal society by providing a variety of services based on its ‘Bio-Idiom’ portfolio of biometric identification solutions,” said Nobuhiro Endo, Chairman of the Board, NEC Corporation.

This project will have the deployment of world’s first scalable fingerprint identification solution for the children, aged 1-5. The solution will help to create a digital ID linked to an accurate, complete medical record of children.

UK-based non-profit social enterprise Simprints will securely store all biometric records, after receiving informed consent from the caregivers to store their children’s biometric data.

“Simprints is thrilled by this opportunity to leverage biometrics to help reach millions of the most vulnerable children worldwide with life-saving vaccinations,” said Tody Norman, Co-founder and CEO, Simprints Technology Ltd.

Since the children will be one of the core aspects of this new project, it also throws a major challenge in terms of using conventional extraction and matching engines because young children’s fingerprints compared to adults tend to be blurred due to their softness.

However, NEC’s fingerprint authentication engine will address this issue through optimization process of infant fingerprints and using Simprints scanners for capturing fingerprint images. This technology combination is expected to offer a highly accurate authentication and NEC research claims a 99% certification rate.

While the three entities have signed the MoU, they will initially work on proof of concept and technology validation in Bangladesh and Tanzania by early 2020. Based on the initial outcome, if it is successful, the project will move to the crucial phase of linking children’s digital identity with their vaccination record, helping health practitioners to track which children need to be vaccinated and when.

Despite enormous progress over the past two decades, according to the vaccine alliance Gavi, there are still about 20 million children, who do not receive a basic course of vaccines worldwide, leaving them exposed to some of the world’s deadliest diseases.

One key cause is the fact that only half of all children under 5 in sub-Saharan Africa are currently registered at birth, leaving many without an official identity. This makes it difficult for health practitioners to ensure these infants get the vaccines they need at the right time, observed Gavi.

“We are in the middle of a global identity crisis: right now there are millions of children, mainly in Africa, without any form of official birth registration, let alone a medical record. This lack of good data makes it extremely hard to give the hardest to reach access to vital healthcare, including vaccines,” said Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Board Chair – Gavi.

“That’s why this partnership is so exciting, bringing together cutting edge technology and Gavi’s know-how to help protect children in developing countries from some of the world’s deadliest diseases,” added Iweala.

To date, Gavi has contributed to the immunization of over 700 million children in the world’s poorest countries, and an estimated 10 million lives have been saved.

“We hope that the three partners will demonstrate the effectiveness of innovation in healthcare and also contribute to the development of LMIC, by assisting them in achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and “no one is left behind”, through utilization of innovation, which includes not only vaccines but also a variety of healthcare services,” said Masahiko Kiya, Deputy Assistant Minister for Global Issues and Ambassador for Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.

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