New Gavi Partnership: Deploying Biometric Technology To Expand Child Vaccine Coverage

A major agreement has been signed between Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and two private sector partners to deploy a new form of biometric fingerprint technology to give children – who may not even have a birth certificate – a complete medical record in order to track critical childhood vaccines.

The agreement, signed yesterday in Tokyo, will enable Gavi to test and scale up the biometric fingerprint technology to boost immunization coverage in developing countries where close to 20 million children have not been vaccinated, and some 1.5 million children annually succumb to vaccine preventable diseases.

The technology aims to overcome key gaps in medical record-keeping for young children, which in turn hinder immunization outreach and surveillance. In sub-Saharan African nations, for instance, only half of all children under five years old are registered at birth. Without an official identity, their medical records are difficult for health practitioners to track down, if they ever had them in the first place.

“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,” said Gavi Board Chair Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in a press release announcing the partnership.

“This lack of good data makes it extremely hard to give the hardest to reach access to vital healthcare, including vaccines,” Okonjo-Iweala added. “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.”

The new partnership will create digital identities for children 1-5 years of age, using technology developed by Simprints Technology Ltd, a non-profit social enterprise. A third partner, NEC Corporation, will support reinforced authentication technology.

Since young children’s fingerprints tend to be blurred due to their softness, conventional biometric fingerprint technology tends to be inaccurate. Together with the use of fingerprint images taken with Simprints scanners, NEC’s fingerprint authentication engine has resulted in highly accurate authentication, with a certification rate of 99%, the release said.

Caregivers would give informed consent to having their children’s biometric data taken, and then all biometric records will be stored securely by Simprints.

Simprints, a company founded at the University of Cambridge, creates biometric fingerprint technology for people in low- and middle-income countries who lack legal proof of their identity.

While previous projects have been aimed at adults with legal and health needs, the venture with Gavi extends that know-how to children, company officials said, so that health practitioners can easily access a digital link to their immunization records.

By early 2020, the three partners will begin piloting the technology in Bangladesh and in an African country, yet to be named. If the pilot program is successful, they will then begin linking children’s new digital identities with their vaccination records. Gavi will guide Simprints and NEC, providing expertise in immunization research and medical practice.

Simprints’ mission is “to transform the way the world fights global poverty, building technology to radically increase transparency and effectiveness in global development and ensuring that every vaccine, every dollar, every public good reaches the people who need them most,” said Toby Norman, co-founder and CEO of the company.

“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, the NEC Corporation’s Chairman of the Board, in the release.

The project partners say that the technology can help advance universal health coverage, which is a key target of the health-related Sustainable Development Goal, SDG 3, and in particular, access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.

Image Credits: Simprints, Simprints .

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