"Paper documents are easily lost or destroyed," says Anil Jain. "Our initial study has shown that fingerprints of infants and toddlers have great potential to accurately record immunizations. You can lose a paper document, but not your fingerprints." (Credit: Kabilan Subramanian/Flickr)

babies

Scan baby’s fingerprints to track immunizations

More than 2 million children die each year because they don’t receive their vaccinations on time. Researchers are developing a new system that scans a child’s fingerprints to track when vaccinations are due, which means parents will no longer need to keep paper documents.

In developing countries, keeping track of a baby’s vaccine schedule on paper is largely ineffective, says Anil Jain, professor of computer science and engineering at Michigan State University.

“Paper documents are easily lost or destroyed,” he says. “Our initial study has shown that fingerprints of infants and toddlers have great potential to accurately record immunizations. You can lose a paper document, but not your fingerprints.”

mothers and babies in Benin, Africa, wait for vaccines
Mothers and babies wait for booster immunizations and vaccinations in a health facility in Benin, Africa. (Credit: Sunpreet Arora)

For a new study, Jain and colleagues traveled to rural health facilities in Benin, West Africa, to test the new system. They used an optical fingerprint reader to scan the thumbs and index fingers of babies and toddlers. From this scanned data, a schedule will be created and become a part of the vaccine registry system.

Once the electronic registry is in place, health care workers simply re-scan the child’s fingers to view the vaccination schedule. They know who has been vaccinated, for what diseases, and when additional booster shots are needed.

No lost information

The new electronic registry system will help overcome the lack and loss of information, which is the primary problem in the vaccine delivery system in developing countries, Jain says.

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Collecting fingerprints from fidgety infants isn’t easy. Another challenge is their small fingerprint patterns have low contrast between ridges and valleys.

“The process can still be improved but we have shown its feasibility,” Jain says. “We will continue to work on refining the fingerprint matching software and finding the best reader to capture fingerprints of young children, which will be of immense global value. We also plan to conduct a longitudinal study to ensure that fingerprints of babies can be successfully matched over time.”

There will be other benefits in addition to tracking vaccinations, says Mark Thomas, executive director of VaxTrac, a nonprofit organization supporting Jain’s research.

“Solving the puzzle of fingerprinting young children will have far-reaching implications beyond health care, including the development of civil registries, government benefits’ tracking, and education recordkeeping.”

Kai Cao postdoctoral researcher, and Sunpreet Arora, doctoral student are coauthors of the study. The findings will be presented at the International Joint Conference on Biometrics on Oct. 2.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded the project.

Source: Michigan State University

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