Celebrating Spartans: Fingerprints as the key to a healthy life

EAST LANSING, Mich (WLNS) – Fingerprints… to those living in the United States we attribute them to criminals.

However, in developing countries, they are saving the lives of babies.

Imagine giving birth and having doctor’s whisk your child off to capture an image of their thumbprints, we don’t see it in this country, but it’s very real in West Africa and parts of India.

Technology advancements in medicine have cured diseases and prolonged life here in the United States.

Benin, West Africa and parts of India are much different than our country. Living in 2016 isn’t the same, depending on where in the world you are.

Dr. Anil Jain is a distinguished Professor of Computer Science at Michigan State University. “Often the disease spreads more readily in developing countries where the healthcare is not so readily available.” Jain said.

Medical records are sometimes lost, sometimes destroyed, sometimes inaccurate in developing countries. Dr. Jain had a medical breakthrough; he is using software and something as tiny and innocent as a fingerprint known as biometrics to help the newborn live a longer life. It’s an idea that he proved successful.

“I think we have shown now, that if the child is over 12-months old we are extremely accurate in matching fingerprint images. So now the challenge is how do we make the software more robust for children 0 to 1” Jain said

The goal is to eventually use this software when the child is much older as a medical record. The print will show doctors that the child had proper vaccinations. Growing into teen years, and eventually adulthood, the medical record will always be a finger length away.

With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr. Jain has teamed up with VaxTrac, a nonprofit organization looking to improve vaccinating the youth in developing countries. A philosophy they are hoping will grow and will help save lives worldwide.

Mark Thomas is the Executive Director for VaxTrac. “The next step is to expand. once you can show how effective his work is in proving health systems we would expand that from our perspective in a bunch of other developing countries and you would hope that other people and governments would adopt that same technology to better their own system” Thomas said.

Thomas addresses that parents in these countries are on board with this biometric system. At first they thought an invasion of privacy would deter some people from allowing fingerprints be taken of their children. However, the possibility of saving their child’s lives outweighed the belief of invasion of rights.

“That is a great concern. We even went into this with the expectation that we we’re going to have to deal with pretty significant push-back. what we’ve seen, which we find fascinating in the 4 years that we’ve worked in West Africa we’ve never had someone opt out of the system or use of fingerprints from the privacy consideration” Thomas said.

Dr. Jain is on a mission to prove that fingerprints don’t change as the person gets older.

Through his developing software, he’s putting his mark on technology.

And that will allow future generations to put their mark on the world.

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