Simprints is a tech non-profit out of the University of Cambridge that uses biometrics for humanitarian response, aid distribution, health programs, and financial services for the poor. More than 1.1 billion people around the world still lack an official identity. Biometrics presents a way for governments and NGOs to use digital technologies for accurate and inclusive identification of program recipients – helping ensure that humanitarian aid and health services reach their intended recipients, while reducing potential for fraud, decreasing costs, and increasing program efficiencies. Cisco first began supporting Simprints in 2018, to help customize and test camera-based (vs fingerprint-based) biometrics at the last mile. The current pandemic has only increased the need for touchless biometrics in delivering aid and health services in developing countries. With additional support from Cisco and others, Simprints is working to pilot and roll out these innovative solutions that will enable the delivery of critical services to vulnerable populations.
This post comes from Christine Kim. She’s the head of strategic partnerships for Simprints, a nonprofit tech company partnering with Cisco, Autodesk, Gavi (the Vaccine Alliance), the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health, and others to ensure every life-saving health service reaches the people who need them most.
To date, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the world’s largest buyer of vaccines for the Global South, has protected a whole generation of children, 760m, from potentially fatal infectious diseases. By creating greater and more equitable access to life-saving vaccines for the world’s poorest, Gavi proves the power of prevention in health interventions. Yet with Covid-19 threatening to undo recent gains and risk an additional 80 million lives, prevention must become the undercurrent to any response—move fast, but move smart. Whatever solutions are implemented need to feed into, and thereby strengthen, existing health systems.
Those of us who partner with Gavi to build and deploy global health technologies know health systems strengthening (HSS) is key. As illustrated in this Harvard Business Review article, technological solutions can bring incredible efficiency and effectiveness to health systems: Logistimo captures stock-and-flow data for more reliable supply chains, Nexleaf Analytics tracks vaccines temperature along the cold chain to protect vaccine viability, and Simprints biometrically links patients to their health records, verifying delivery of essential health services to each individual. These and countless other technologies can be woven together to help Ministries of Health and their partners ensure resources are getting to the people who need them most.
However, it is notoriously difficult for organizations such as Simprints to raise funds like traditional private-sector companies can, because our markets are effectively non-profit. Similar to the unfortunate lack of pandemic preparedness the world finds itself in, when the need for certain technologies arise, we find the solutions don’t exist because the funding necessary to build them w asn’t available. Without the proper tools underlying the systems that fight infectious diseases, millions suffer from preventable causes.
Funders like Cisco have been critical in bridging this gap. Not all dollars are created equal, and by proactively investing patient capital into early-stage innovations, Cisco gives grantees the space to build for impact in the future.
Take Simprints: we are a nonprofit tech company that builds and deploys biometrics solutions to increase effectiveness and ensure every vaccine, every dollar, every public good reaches the people who need them most. Cisco has helped us to build a contactless version of our solution, tested with field partners in Kenya and Tanzania for accuracy and usability in the low-resource contexts in which they operate—and just in time. This solution is now being prepared to aid our partners in Africa and South Asia as they pivot to fighting Covid-19 and seek a method of patient tracking that minimizes risk of viral transmission. A mobile biometric solution that identifies individuals from a safe distance can be a “game changing” tool that amplifies the effectiveness of their existing health systems. Suffice it to say, without the previous 18 months of R&D we needed to lift this off the ground, we would not be in a position to send our partners anything more than our best wishes.
In rich and poor countries alike, Covid-19 has exposed deep cracks in our health systems. But as the former Director-General of the WHO, H.E. Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland frankly said “For too long, we have allowed a cycle of panic and neglect when it comes to pandemics: we ramp up efforts when there is a serious threat, then quickly forget about them when the threat subsides.”
The world has a choice: tackle each threat individually, but fail to address the underlying weaknesses that have made us so vulnerable to the virus; or seize the historic opportunity to build health systems that will not only safeguard against future pandemics but also support billions of people around the world. While the comparison seems like a rhetorical one, we have been faced with this choice several times before, only to have our attention drift once the crisis is over: with Ebola, MERS, H1N1, SARS, and several outbreaks of measles, cholera, and other infectious diseases that consistently claim thousands of lives.
This time must be different. Now, the right technologies and the teams to leverage those technologies are positioned to help prevent future health crises. But in order to make global health security truly global, we need patient capital to transform health care’s currently siloed resources into seamless “tech stacks.” The resulting multilayer foundation will contain everything from biometric patient ID to medical supply chain monitoring. This seamless system can help Ministries of Health more effectively serve their populations. It can strengthen existing health systems, help capable health workers verify the delivery of essential care, and support the creation of resilient communities. This is where private sector actors like Cisco can make a difference, now and in the future.