Digital tool to identify unclaimed bodies expands reach

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 11 Sept 2023
Premier Panyaza Lesufi and health and wellness MEC Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko (middle) with the ambassadors and representatives of six SADC nations.
Premier Panyaza Lesufi and health and wellness MEC Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko (middle) with the ambassadors and representatives of six SADC nations.

Nations in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) will be able to tap into the Gauteng Department of Health’s digital fingerprint system.

This, after the Gauteng Provincial Government, through the province’s health department, on Friday agreed to link the system to the population registers of six SADC countries.

The move aims to address the challenge of identifying people from the SADC region who die in the province without any form of identification, according to the Gauteng health department.

The provincial government, led by premier Panyaza Lesufi and health and wellness MEC Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko, met with ambassadors and representatives from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Eswatini, Namibia, Botswana and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“What we are doing here is part of consulting stakeholders, and we believe this is the beginning of better relations and cooperation among our respective countries, so that we can assist others in servicing our nationals,” says Lesufi.

Officially unveiled in June, the digital fingerprint system is being utilised by the Gauteng Forensic Pathology Service (FPS).

It identifies deceased bodies by using biometric scanners and linking to the databases of the Department of Home Affairs, South African Police Service and National Credit Bureau.

However, the system was unable to identify deceased individuals from other countries. The collaboration entered into with the six nations will address the challenges of undocumented immigrants kept in Gauteng mortuaries.

With Gauteng facing the challenge of unclaimed bodies across FPS mortuaries, the health department decided to deploy a tech solution.

The department initially announced plans for the digital fingerprint system last year, saying it would help to improve identification of unclaimed bodies and become a transformative milestone in the field of forensic pathology.

In January, the department ran a pilot 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 has allowed the provincial health department to extend 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.

“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,” comments Nkomo-Ralehoko.