Simprints biometrics driving inclusive healthcare delivery in Ethiopia
Panelists in a recent webinar organized by Simprints were unanimous that technology deployed by the UK-based fingerprint biometrics company for healthcare programs in Ethiopia is helping deliver important services to the needy.
Discussion during the webinar, which took place on November 16 under the theme “Impact and inclusion in Ethiopia: using biometric to verify healthcare delivery,” focussed on how biometric software and hardware provided by Simprints are helping to verify patients targeted by dedicated healthcare programs in the country.
The virtual event also explored how the country’s national health system is becoming more inclusive through digitization.
Jenny Thornton, strategic partnership lead at Simprints, and Alfenur Abu Kufa, East African regional director of the company, both explained the strides made so far across the three healthcare programs which they run in Ethiopia.
The webinar focussed on the impact of Simprints technology in verifying patients receiving care for two Neglected Tropical Diseases (schistosomiasis and trachoma). Trachoma is said to be endemic in Ethiopia as the country is reported to have about 50 percent of the world’s known cases of the disease.
Thornton noted that verifying the impact of technology is very important in the global health sector. “If you are spending money to do something, you must make sure that it works,” she said, adding that Simprints’ biometrics are used to monitor vaccine and trachoma surgery coverage in different locations in Ethiopia. Simprints is partnering with Gavi on the vaccine program.
Simprints technology, Thornton explained, works by linking patients to their healthcare records via biometrics such as fingerprints or their facial photo. Their application also works offline, so there are no concerns about usage for people in rural communities without access to electricity, she noted.
Data protection is fundamental
In explaining the impact of their work in Ethiopia, the Simprints officials also touched on one important issue they are placing a premium on: data protection and privacy.
According to Thornton, data protection is an important aspect of their work given that their system deals with a lot of sensitive patient information. “We take privacy very seriously. To us, it’s not just an option, it’s a legal right,” she said, citing a World Bank mission billion price for innovation in data security which the firm won in 2019.
While they spoke generally about the importance of biometrics technology in service delivery such as in the healthcare domain, they also opined that biometric systems also have their potential risks, but the issues can be handled if the right approach is used.
Despite the risk, they said biometrics not only provide a reliable option for service delivery in different domains, they also enhance transparency, accountability and trust.
As such, they believe there is need for more countries around the world to build these features into their healthcare systems with biometrics as they digitize.
Last year, a former Simprints executive gave a talk on the responsible deployment of biometrics for service delivery.
Digital ID, an important tool for healthcare delivery
Gemechis Melkamu, digital health lead at Ethiopia’s federal ministry of health spoke on the collaboration which Simprints enjoys with Ethiopian authorities, and also the partnership that the ministry has with the National ID Program (NIDP) to integrate the Fayda digital ID into healthcare service delivery.
He said with over three million digital IDs already issued by the NIDP, the government is on the right track towards achieving positive results.
Another panelist, Caroline Trotter, professor of global health and academic director of Cambridge-Africa program at the University of Cambridge, underlined the importance of harmonizing data from multiple sources into one repository to be able to better meet patients’ needs.
Simprints recently sought a research consulting services provider to assess ID verification needs in relation to its healthcare partnership with Ethiopia’s federal ministry of health.