Protecting our most vulnerable: The vital role of footprint scanning in SA's hospitals

Johannesburg, 16 Oct 2023
Grahame Saunders, Head of Identity Management, NEC XON.
Grahame Saunders, Head of Identity Management, NEC XON.

In a nation grappling with the distressing rise in child kidnappings, the need for innovative solutions to protect our infants has never been more critical. South Africa finds itself in the throes of an alarming child abduction pandemic. Amid the scourge, NEC XON is offering CertaScan technology as a groundbreaking solution to safeguard infants in hospitals.

Police struggling to cope with rise in kidnappings

According to Missing Children South Africa, the country is losing the battle against the surging number of child kidnappings. This civil society organisation has sounded the alarm, classifying the issue as a pandemic. South Africa's police force is feeling the strain. Police Minister Bheki Cele has shared the frustrating experience of law enforcement. In some cases, suspects who have evaded capture for months are granted bail with a simple stroke of a pen, further complicating the authorities' task. This infuriating cycle places an undue burden on the police, forcing them to retrace their steps in the pursuit of suspects who have been prematurely released back into society.

Bianca van Aswegen, national co-coordinator of Missing Children SA, has highlighted the hurdles presented by the legal system in protecting children from kidnappings. The current legal framework, in some instances, seems inadequate to shield our children from this horrific fate.

These feet were made for talking

In this context, NEC XON is offering CertaScan technology to identify infants in hospitals. According to Grahame Saunders, Head of Identity Management at NEC XON, the solution harnesses modern scanning technology and a patented system to scan newborns’ feet. “Footprints are a unique and recognised way to identify each child. Moreover, these footprints can serve as a lifeline for forensic identification throughout a child's life,” says Saunders.

The feet of over 1 million babies have been digitally scanned by CertaScan equipment in US hospitals for precise identification. CertaScan ensures that babies are not mis-identified (ie, switched) by the hospital, mitigating legal and reputational risks. Babies can easily be misidentified during hospital evacuations due to emergencies, for example. There have been three notable hospital evacuations in South Africa in the last two to three years:

  • In 2021, a fire caused Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg to evacuate patients.
  • In 2022, smoke caused Panorama Hospital in Cape Town to evacuate patients.
  • In 2023, overcrowding and blackouts caused Dora Nginza Hospital in Nelson Mandela Bay to evacuate patients – explicitly mothers and babies.

Drawing from years of experience in maternity settings and in collaboration with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), CertaScan has developed an innovative identification system. The system is simple to implement and use within a hospital setting, ensuring a seamless integration into existing procedures. The Infant Safety System offered by CertaScan not only digitally captures and stores newborn footprints, but also allows for the inclusion of security photos and the mother's index fingerprint.

The CertaScan system comprises advanced scanning equipment, patented software and comprehensive services, including installation, training and maintenance. The solution features an affordable fee per scan, making it accessible to hospitals and parents alike. CertaScan's Infant Safety System proves invaluable in critical situations, including abduction, switched babies, natural disasters and abandonments.

With CertaScan, hospitals can harness the power of a newborn's footprints for effective infant identification. The technology even facilitates the integration of these footprints into electronic medical records (EMRs), streamlining record-keeping and ensuring accuracy. “This innovative system has garnered praise from hospital administrators, nurses, parents and law enforcement agencies, and NEC XON is delighted to make it available to the African market,” Saunders concludes.



NEC XON is a leading African integrator of ICT solutions and part of NEC, a Japanese global company. NEC XON has operated in Africa since 1963 and delivers communications, energy, safety, security, and digital solutions. It co-creates social value through innovation to help overcome serious societal challenges. The organisation operates in 54 African countries and has a footprint in 16 of them. Regional headquarters are located in South, East, and West Africa. NEC XON is a level 1-certified broad-based black economic empowerment (B-BBEE) business. Discover more at

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Michelle Oelschig
Scarlet Letter
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