The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Commission have launched the global digital health certification network, building up on the EU digital COVID certificate’s framework.
It was 1 July 2021 when the EU digital COVID certificate came into force. It was set to attest to a person’s status regarding COVID vaccination.
While COVID is no longer a public health emergency of international concern, as the WHO declared a month ago, and Europeans have long forgotten the certificate, the systems are not being thrown away, but rather the opposite.
The certificate’s framework, principles, and open technologies are now being picked up by the WHO to build the global digital health certification network, with the aim of allowing the world to benefit from the convergence of digital certificates.
On Monday (5 June), Stella Kyriakides, the EU’s health commissioner, and the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus signed an administrative arrangement and Letter of Intent at the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva, whereby the WHO would take up the EU system of digital COVID-19 certification in June 2023.
The aim is to establish a global system to facilitate global mobility and protect citizens across the world from ongoing and future health threats.
Two years after the launch of the COVID certificate, Kyriakides said she was delighted that “the World Health Organisation will take up the framework of the EU digital COVID certificate”.
“With this landmark partnership with the WHO, we are scaling up EU innovation in digital health to deliver safe mobility for all citizens across the globe,” the EU health chief said.
She added that “there is no better partner than the WHO to advance the work we started in the EU and further develop global digital health solutions”.
This is the first building block of the WHO Global Digital Health Certification Network (GDHCN) which will develop a wide range of digital products to deliver better health across the globe.
The COVID-19 certificate network becomes operational already on 5 June. So far the framework has been taken up by almost 80 countries.
Aiming to expand the framework
The WHO aims to progressively develop and expand the system in the coming months, incorporating digitised international certificates of vaccination, routine immunisation cards, and International Patient summaries.
“The WHO will continue to work with all regions to ensure that the network is accessible globally, incorporating relevant experiences and standards from other countries and regions,” Tedros said during the launch event.
According to the European Commission’s press release, this cooperation is based on the shared values and principles of transparency and openness, inclusiveness, accountability, data protection and privacy, security, scalability at a global level, and equity.
“It’s important to emphasise that privacy is key,” Tedros stressed.
“The WHO will not have any access to any personal health data, we will only maintain a directory of the public keys that can be used to verify the authenticity of a member state’s digital health records,” the WHO’s chief explained.
Thierry Breton, the EU commissioner for internal market, said he was “pleased that the WHO will build on the privacy-preserving principles and cutting-edge technology of the EU certificate to create a global tool against future pandemics”.
Based on the EU Global Health Strategy and WHO Global strategy on digital health, the initiative follows the 2 December 2022 agreement signed by Commissioner Kyriakides and the WHO chief Ghebreyesus to enhance strategic cooperation on global health issues.