Software should save lives by increasing vaccinations in developing countries

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Scene from field test of software

Credit: Photo courtesy of Sunpreet Arora

New biometric software developed by Michigan State University researchers and funded by the Gates Foundation promises to increase vaccination rates in developing countries by allowing for better record-keeping.

It also may concern some privacy advocates and explode a head or two among anti-vaxxers.

From the MIT Technology Review:

Billions of dollars a year are spent vaccinating children in developing countries, but about half as many immunizations are administered as could be because of unreliable vaccination records. Biometric researchers from Michigan State University have developed a fingerprint-scanning system for children under five years old that could replace ineffective paper vaccination records.

Until now, biometrics experts believed fingerprints of babies and toddlers were too unreliable because image sensors are designed for the ridges and valleys of adult fingertips. The Michigan State University researchers developed software that makes it feasible to accurately match fingerprints of children under five with off-the-shelf equipment. They intend to present a paper detailing their work at a biometrics conference later this month. Paper-based vaccination records are easily lost and don’t reliably provide health workers with up-to-date information on patient history. Fingerprints are a better biometric trait than the iris of the eye or palm and footprints because they are easier to record from young children and the sensors are small and work quickly.

The researchers acknowledge that the software needs refining to increase the accuracy of print matching, which was 70 percent in one field trial conducted in Benin, West Africa. They believe 95 percent is attainable.

They also believe the software could be useful in other applications such as countering insurance fraud.

While the latter prospect may concern some privacy advocates, the researchers note that it has not been an issue among the parents they are looking to serve first.

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