By Biodun Busari
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Union Commission have announced the inauguration of a significant partnership in digital health to benefit people in receiving quality services around the world. In a statement issued recently, both organisations stated that this collaboration would serve as the initial foundation of the WHO Global Digital Health Certification Network (GDHCN).
The Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides said the partnership marked a crucial milestone in the EU Global Health Strategy’s digital action plan. Kyriakides said: “By using European best practices we contribute to digital health standards and interoperability globally to the benefit of those most in need. It is also a powerful example of how alignment between the EU and the WHO can deliver better health for all in the EU, and across the world. As the directing and coordinating authority on international health work, there is no better partner than the WHO to advance the work we started at the EU. It will further develop global digital health solutions.”
She explained that the partnership would have close collaboration in the development, management and implementation of the WHO GDHCN system, taking advantage of the European Commission’s substantial technical expertise in this domain. She further stated that the initial step involved ensuring the continued effective functioning of the current EU digital certificates. The statement disclosed that in June 2023, the WHO would adopt the EU system of digital COVID-19 certification to create a universal system that facilitates international mobility and safeguards individuals worldwide from ongoing and future health threats, including pandemics. Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, emphasized that the objective of the new digital health products under development is to enable people worldwide to receive quality health services promptly and efficiently.
He explained that WHO intends to provide all its Member States with access to an open-source digital health tool, guided by the principles of equity, innovation, transparency and data protection. The statement further noted that this initiative is based on the EU and WHO Global Health Strategy on digital health, following the agreement reached on 30 November 2022. The two organisations committed to strengthening their strategic cooperation on global health matters, reinforcing a robust multilateral system with the WHO at its core, supported by a strong EU.
Mr Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market, highlighted that the EU Digital COVID-19 Certificate had set a global standard with its connection to 80 countries and territories. Breton emphasized that the EU certificate had been instrumental not only in combating the pandemic but also in facilitating international travel and tourism. He expressed satisfaction that the WHO would build upon the privacy-preserving principles and cutting-edge technology of the EU certificate to create a global tool against future pandemics.
The statement emphasized that digital COVID certificates have been a key component in the European Union’s efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. It mentioned that the EU swiftly established interoperable COVID-19 certificates, known as the ‘EU Digital COVID Certificate’ or ‘EU DCC,’ to facilitate free movement within its borders. By utilizing open-source technologies and standards, the EU DCC allowed for the integration of non-EU countries issuing certificates according to its specifications, becoming the most widely adopted solution worldwide.