Columnists

Go biometrics to stop healthcare fraud

Planes at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi.

Kenya Airways planes at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • Because the UAE does its own tests on every passenger on landing, it discovered that many of those who claimed to have negative results were indeed positive.
  • What came out is that fraudsters had exploited paper documentation and security vulnerabilities for most travellers and issued the majority of them with fake certificates.
  • Sensing the seriousness of the matter, the UAE banned all flights from Kenya.

The emergence of the Omicron Covid-19 variant has deepened the woes of the tourism and hospitality sector.

Since Omicron came at a time when most people were planning their holidays, especially those intending to fly outside the country, most travellers became desperate. And some holiday seekers to United Arab Emirates (UAE) began to lie about their PCR test for Covid.

Because the UAE does its own tests on every passenger on landing, it discovered that many of those who claimed to have negative results were indeed positive.

What came out is that fraudsters had exploited paper documentation and security vulnerabilities for most travellers and issued the majority of them with fake certificates. Sensing the seriousness of the matter, the UAE banned all flights from Kenya.

Genuine travellers who had already booked flights and holiday accommodation lost money in the process.

Kenya’s reputation got dented. In an attempt to save face, Kenyan authorities retaliated by banning flights from the UAE to Kenya.

But investigations have since revealed that indeed Kenya’s health credentials lack biometric privacy protection which makes them susceptible to forgery. Although the Ministry of Health has published approved test labs, they lack a proper regulatory regime.

The use of biometrics within the healthcare system comes with a number of potential advantages, such as reducing medical errors, reducing the risk of fraud, and improving capacity to react to medical emergencies.

As much as we want to sweep the debacle under the carpet, the Kenyan PCR tests might have a trust problem unless drastic measures are taken to restore the credibility of our healthcare systems.

One such measure is to make sure the government acts against those who tried to cheat the systems. And as a deterrent measure, data of the fraudsters should be accessed from the airports authority and publicised.

Perhaps this might be the only way these impostors who are making the entire country look bad can understand the feelings of a law-abiding citizens who get affected by their actions.

Since we have the records of those who lied, it is only fair that they be brought to court as a testimony of what will happen if any other person tries to undermine the law at this very difficult moment.

In developing countries where mistrust sometimes stands in the way of development, technology can be a big disruptor. Decentralised technologies are increasingly used to mediate in situations where trust relationships don’t exist. Whether it is widespread corruption or people are just behaving badly, emerging technologies such as blockchain are offering hope.

In the case of people cheating the system, blockchain can improve the model of trust.

This happens by removing centralised authorities and automatically distributing it to institutions that have permission to access the record without the intervention of the user, depending on the type of blockchain solution applied.

This changes the focus of trust by shifting it from a central authority, to trust in an algorithm. For a healthcare system, it can help secure identity which is essential for controlling logical access to consolidated records of digitised patients’ data.

Ethically, we each have the responsibility for other human beings to be honest about our health status and proactively deal with it to safeguard the lives of others.

Considering that the pandemic has killed millions of people over the past two years, and continues to bring pain in many people’s lives, we should not tolerate any kind of lies when it comes to Covid-19.

To effectively deal with such lies, we must get rid of manual verifications and introduce tamper-proof digital solutions such as biometric encryption to secure personal data.

The current test results unnecessarily expose too much personal data on paper making it easier for fraudsters to tamper with.