A memorandum of understanding on the use of biometrics to improve immunization coverage in developing countries has been signed by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, NEC Corporation, and Simprints Technology.
Despite enormous progress over the past two decades, there are still approximately 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 five 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.
Guided by Gavi’s experience and expertise in immunization, this new project will combine Simprints’ biometric fingerprint technology and NEC’s reinforced authentication engine to help create digital identities for children one to five years of age and boost immunization coverage in developing countries.
This new partnership will deploy the world’s first scalable fingerprint identification solution to give children aged one to five a digital ID linked to an accurate, complete medical record. All biometric records will be stored securely by Simprints, a UK-based non-profit social enterprise, after caregivers give informed consent to taking their children’s biometric data.
Implementing this plan with conventional extraction and matching engines would be very challenging, since young children’s fingerprints tend to be blurred due to their softness. NEC’s fingerprint authentication engine has overcome this issue, with optimization for infant fingerprints and the use of fingerprint images taken with Simprints scanners. This combination has resulted in highly accurate authentication, with a certification rate of 99%.
The three partners will begin carrying out proof of concept validation of the technology in Bangladesh and Tanzania by early 2020. If successful, the project will then progress to linking children’s digital identity with their vaccination record, helping health practitioners to track which children need to be vaccinated and when.
Gavi was first established in 2000 at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum as an alliance for promoting immunization, saving lives and protecting the health of children around the world.
Members of the Gavi alliance include governments, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, the World Bank, vaccination industries, and research institutes. 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.
This initiative helps to promote the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established by the United Nations, particularly Goal three of ensuring healthy lives for all people of all ages and promoting welfare. This includes provision 3.8 for achieving universal health coverage (UHC), including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Board Chair, Gavi, said: “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.
“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.”
Nobuhiro Endo, Chairman of the Board, NEC Corporation, added: “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.”
Norman, Co-founder and CEO, Simprints Technology, commented: “Partnering with Gavi and NEC, Simprints is thrilled by this opportunity to leverage biometrics to help reach millions of the most vulnerable children worldwide with life-saving vaccinations.
“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.”
Masahiko Kiya, Deputy Assistant Minister for Global Issues and Ambassador for Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, said: “We welcome NEC’s participation in Gavi’s activities, which are leading immunization support in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), by providing fingerprint recognition engines as a Japan-originated innovation.
“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.”