African health passport initiatives embrace blockchain, mobile tech

COVID vaccine verification initiatives are looking at broader plans to develop so-called health passports and digital heath record management systems, with blockchain and mobile technology poised to take central roles.

Electronic Health Records [EHR] / digital medical data / stethoscope, mobile phone
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Plans to roll out so-called vaccine passports are gaining momentum globally as people around the world get inoculated against COVID. The requirements of putting in place a vaccine verification process is touted as one way of opening up borders for trade and travel, and technology including blockchain and mobile apps are poised to take centre stage.

In Africa, there are already plans by different governments to launch technology-led solutions for vaccine passports. Ultimately, these initiatives could give birth to a revolution in how health data is acquired, managed and used, say officials involved with the programmes. In this scenario, vaccine passports used for travel purposes may evolve into more general-purpose "smart" health cards or digital health passports that are important components of national healthcare systems. 

Rishon Chimboza, head of technology partnerships at the nonprofit Tony Blair Institute (TBI), says the rollout of vaccine passports has to go beyond global travel purposes. TBI is working with the governments of Ghana, Senegal and Rwanda to expedite digital health management systems, in collaboration with Oracle. These initiatives not only look at the current pandemic but seek to establish health management systems that  include digital health passports.

What are health passports?

A health passport collects information that is essential for emergencies and routine medical treatment. The information can include patient identity, medical history, allergies, contact person, and blood type, according to Fatou Caro Ndiaye, CMO and data analyst at SenVitale, a health technology company in Senegal.

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