Digital tool to help identify unclaimed bodies in GP

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 14 Jul 2023

The Gauteng Department of Health yesterday unveiled its digital fingerprint system to help identify unclaimed and unidentified bodies at its government mortuaries.

The department initially announced plans for the system in March 2022, saying it would help improve identification of unclaimed bodies.

Joined by Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi, health and wellness MEC Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko introduced the system that will be used across 11 Forensic Pathology Service (FPS) mortuaries in the province. It was introduced at the Germiston FPS.

The system uses biometric scanners and is linked to the databases of the Department of Home Affairs, South African Police Service and National Credit Bureau.

There are plans to also bring on-board the foreign affairs department, as some of the people in government mortuaries come from SADC countries, says Nkomo-Ralehoko.

A total of 841 deceased bodies are currently unclaimed across FPS mortuaries in the province, she adds. The system will be used to identify these bodies.

Nkomo-Ralehoko indicates the introduction of the system is a transformative milestone in the field of forensic pathology.

“This system empowers us to swiftly identify and confirm the identities of deceased individuals, bringing closure to the grieving families and expediting investigation processes for law enforcement agents.”

FPS’s Willie Fouche says fingerprint verification is conducted directly with the Department of Home Affairs. FPS officials scan the deceased’s fingerprints to find a match in the database.

Fouche notes the system is compliant with SA’s Protection of Personal Information Act data privacy law.

While the system was announced last year, the department ran a pilot in January at five Gauteng FPS mortuaries: Bronkhorstspruit, Johannesburg, Diepkloof, Pretoria and Ga-Rankuwa.

The pilot was sponsored through the Centre for Public Service Innovation's replication project, which allowed the provincial health department to now deploy the system across the province.

During the pilot phase, a sample of 65 body trace requests was done and 61 of these were successfully identified, with 25 families traced, according to the department. Four of the bodies were found to have fraudulent identities.