Fingerprint technology helping Uganda fight HIV/Aids

Bio-metric technology

In 2016, the government of Uganda embarked on the implementation of the 90–90–90 strategy of eliminating HIV/Aids from the country.

The 90–90–90 strategy was launched in 2014 by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and partners to diagnose 90% of all HIV-positive persons, provide antiretroviral therapy (ART) for 90% of those diagnosed, and achieve viral suppression for 90% of those treated by 2020.

As part of implementation of this strategy, the government sought to devise means of how to track different groups of people and test them for HIV/Aids in different communities. They, therefore, had to find a way of collecting data from patients to trace their testing history and frequency of treatment.

Consequently, with support from donors, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) launched biometric fingerprint technology where HIV/Aids patients would be identified using fingerprints. The project was to be implemented in 48 districts across Uganda where the CDC operates and that focus was to be put on improving leadership at district and hospital level, help in monitoring and evaluation and support data driven decision making, among others.

Speaking at the launch, the then minister of Health, Dr Elioda Tumwesigye, said that identity verification based on fingerprint technology would improve access to services, aid in tracking HIV patients, drugs and generate information that can be used for decision making.

One of those areas where fingerprint technology was launched is Rwenzori sub-region where HIV/Aids prevalence rate stood at 8.3 per cent as of 2015. The Rwenzori region comprises Kabarole, Kamwenge, Kyegegwa, Ntoroko, Bundibugyo, Bunyangabu, Kasese and Kyenjojo districts. Kabarole had the highest Aids prevalence rate (15 per cent) by 2015.

Under the fingerprint technology, a patient is identified using their fingerprint and the information can be shared with different clinics to avoid duplicity. This means government is able to know the exact number of people on treatment and how many more need it.

Since the adoption of the technology about two years ago, the region has registered gains in the fight against HIV/Aids. According to a survey conducted by the Uganda Population-Based HIV Impact Assessment (UPHIA) between August 2016 and March 2017, HIV/Aids prevalence has reduced from 8.3 per cent in 2015 to 5.7 per cent in 2017 in Rwenzori region.

According to the officer in charge of Bukuku Health Centre IV in Kabarole District, Dr Solomon Asiimwe, the introduction of fingerprint technology to trace HIV/Aids patients has greatly improved records of patients at different health units.

He said previously, the reason why HIV/Aids prevalence was high was due to the duplication of records where patients could do double testing in different health facilities but with the new technology, it has been able to capture a client who has been tested.

Dr Asiimwe says for over four years, the health facility had not registered any new born baby who is positive and that in a week, the facility registers one or zero patients who has tested positive.

“For a period of about four years at Bukuku health facility, we have not registered any mother who gave birth to a positive baby but what we have now have at the facility are 100 positive mothers who gave birth to negative babies and we are taking care of them and we have a total of 1,300 people living with HIV/Aids at our facility and retention rate is at 90 per cent,” Dr Asiimwe said.

According to Kabarole District Health Officer Richard Mugahi, the fingerprint technology was introduced a new method on targeted groups unlike in the past where they used to have mass testing and ended up wasting testing kits.

“We now use targeted testing where we have identified some groups like Boda boda riders, tea estate workers and long-distance truck drivers. We move to their places and have them tested and this targeted testing has helped us much to get new people enrolled on ARVs,” Dr Mugahi explained.

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