In a groundbreaking joint press conference held in Geneva on June 5, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Union (EU) announced their collaboration on the development of global digital vaccine passports. This innovative initiative aims to establish a comprehensive system that facilitates global mobility while safeguarding citizens worldwide from ongoing and future health threats, including pandemics. With the WHO taking up the EU’s system of digital COVID-19 certification, this partnership marks a significant milestone in the advancement of digital health solutions for the benefit of all.
Establishing the WHO Global Digital Health Certification Network (GDHCN)
The collaboration between the WHO and the EU represents the first building block of the WHO Global Digital Health Certification Network (GDHCN). This network will spearhead the development of a diverse range of digital products aimed at delivering improved health outcomes for individuals worldwide. The operationalization of this initial building block is scheduled for June 2023, with further progressive development planned in the coming months.
Recognizing the Value of Digital Health Solutions
The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on the tremendous value of digital health solutions in enhancing access to healthcare services. While the emergency phase of the pandemic has subsided, investment in digital infrastructure remains crucial for health systems, economies, and societies at large. During the joint press conference, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus emphasized the importance of leveraging digital technologies to ensure the resilience and effectiveness of healthcare systems globally.
Adopting the EU Digital COVID Certificate as a Model
To establish a globally recognized digital health certificate, the WHO has chosen the “EU Digital COVID Certificate” as a model. The EU’s swift implementation of interoperable COVID-19 certificates, facilitating free movement within its borders, has served as a key element in combating the pandemic. The WHO aims to replicate this success on a global scale by collaborating with the EU and leveraging their expertise to establish a unified system of digital certificates. This collaborative effort will enable the world to benefit from the convergence of digital health certifications.
EU Digital COVID Certificate’s Impact on Travel and Society
During the peak of the COVID crisis, the EU Digital COVID Certificate played a vital role in enabling EU citizens to travel to other member states. To ensure the safety of individuals and prevent the spread of the virus, proof of vaccination, recovery, or a recent negative COVID-19 test was required for travel. Notably, some EU countries, such as Austria, implemented stricter measures, effectively segregating citizens who declined vaccination from mainstream society.
Advancing the EU Global Health Strategy
The partnership between the EU and the WHO represents a significant stride forward in the EU Global Health Strategy’s digital action plan. By adopting European best practices, this collaboration aims to contribute to global digital health standards and interoperability, particularly benefiting those most in need. The alignment between the EU and the WHO sets a powerful example of international cooperation that strives to deliver improved health outcomes for all individuals worldwide.
Enabling Global Tools Against Future Pandemics
The EU’s Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, highlighted the effectiveness of the EU certificate in combating the pandemic and its role in facilitating international travel and tourism. With the WHO’s expansion of digital vaccine passports, this collaboration aims to create a global tool that will serve as a defense against future pandemics. The first building block of the global WHO system will commence operations in June 2023, with subsequent development planned in the following months.
Respecting Data Privacy and Technical Advancements
In line with data privacy regulations, the WHO underscores that it will not have access to any underlying personal data, as this responsibility remains the exclusive domain of governments. The partnership between the WHO and the EU will focus on the technical development of the WHO system, employing a staged approach to cover additional use cases. This could potentially involve digitizing the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis, among other digital solutions aimed at delivering better health outcomes for citizens across the globe.
Ensuring Equitable Global Uptake
Central to this collaboration is the commitment to encourage maximum global uptake and participation in the digital health certificate. Recognizing the importance of equitable opportunities, the WHO and the EU will ensure that low and middle-income countries have fair access to and participation in the digital health certification program. By prioritizing inclusivity, this initiative aims to bridge gaps in healthcare disparities and provide equal protection to individuals worldwide.
The collaboration between the WHO and the EU on global digital vaccine passports marks a pivotal moment in advancing digital health solutions for the benefit of all. By leveraging the EU’s successful implementation of the digital COVID-19 certificate, the WHO aims to establish a comprehensive system that facilitates global mobility while protecting individuals from health threats. This partnership exemplifies the alignment between the EU and the WHO, delivering better health outcomes and laying the foundation for future advancements in global digital health solutions.
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