| Chris Burt

The government of Kwara State in Nigeria has partnered with SmilePass to launch a Universal Health Insurance Program which will provide primary medical care to three million residents with facial recognition.

Citizens can take a selfie with a mobile phone to match it with their registered medical records, which proves their eligibility and gives them access to healthcare with the state covering 70 percent of the cost, according to the announcement. So far, 80,000 state employees have been registered, and the government plans to register 500,000 people in the next 90 days with trained field workers.

While fingerprint technology has been trialed to provide identity verification for the program, the frequently worn fingers of the rural state’s largely agricultural population made it unsuitable for many.

“It has been a fascinating and rewarding program to work on,” says SmilePass CEO Grant Crow. “When Kwara State realised that fingerprint reading technology was not effective — they approached us to help implement our facial recognition technology.”

The project is partially funded by the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation, and the state has created the Kwara Health Insurance Agency to manage the program. Nigeria was ranked 187th out of 200 countries for healthcare quality in 2016.

“We were thrilled to learn that Kwara State wants every citizen to be covered by the healthcare program — I’m sure it will be life-changing for many families and it is also fantastic to see our biometric technology used for socially impactful schemes,” Crow says.

Nigeria has been introducing or extending systems to adopt biometrics for a variety of identification use cases this year, including to ensure voter eligibility for upcoming elections, and to keep track of foreign visitors.

SmilePass launched its selfie onboarding application earlier this year.