Two digital systems built to help to increase access to childhood vaccinations could now have another use – giving legal digital identities to unregistered citizens in developing countries, according to a global vaccine partnership.

These systems were first conceived to increase global childhood vaccination coverage, wrote Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, in an op-ed piece on MIT Technology Review. He noted that these systems have a “broad reach” – 86% of infants in Africa and Asia now have access to routine immunisation.

Berkley believes that these systems could also help give citizens in developing countries a “legal digital identity”. Currently, one in three children under age five in developing countries “does not officially exist” because their birth was not registered, Berkley wrote. This leaves them “vulnerable” to neglect and abuse.

One of these digital ID systems, called MyChild, digitises paper records of a child’s vaccinations and other health data. Each child is given a booklet with a unique ID number and scannable tear-out slips. Even if the child’s birth wasn’t registered, there will be a “unique digital record” that health workers can access. More 95,000 infants in Uganda, Afghanistan, and the Gambia have been registered, Berkley wrote.

The Khushi Baby system, on the other hand, provides children with “digital necklaces”, containing chips which can be scanned with smartphones – useful in remote areas with no network coverage.

He believes that while security, reliability and privacy are “paramount”, these technologies could “transform” the lives of millions of vulnerable children. “By giving them visibility in the digital world, we can help prevent a life of invisibility in the real world,” Berkley wrote.

Now read: A quarter of Indonesian kids don’t have birth certificates

Image by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, District Public Health Office, Immunisation Clinic, Pokhara, NepalCC BY 2.0