Today, the European Commission and the World Health Organization (WHO) have announced the launch of a landmark digital health partnership.
In June 2023, WHO will take up the European Union (EU) system of digital COVID-19 certification to establish a global system that will help facilitate global mobility and protect citizens across the world from on-going and future health threats. This is the first building block of the WHO Global Digital Health Certification Network (GDHCN) that will develop a wide range of digital products to deliver better health for all.
Based on the EU Global Health Strategy and WHO Member States Global Strategy on Digital Health, the initiative follows the 2 December 2022 agreement signed by Commissioner Kyriakides and WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to enhance strategic cooperation on global health issues. This further bolsters a robust multilateral system with WHO at its core, powered by a strong EU.
This partnership will include close collaboration in the development, management and implementation of the WHO system, benefitting from the European Commission’s ample technical expertise in the field. A first step is to ensure that the current EU digital certificates continue to function effectively.
A global WHO system building on EU legacy
One of the key elements in the European Union’s work against the COVID-19 pandemic has been the digital COVID certificate. To facilitate free movement within its borders, the EU swiftly established interoperable COVID-19 certificates (entitled ‘EU Digital COVID Certificate’ or ‘EU DCC’). Based on open-source technologies and standards it allowed also for the connection of non-EU countries that issue certificates according to EU DCC specifications, becoming the most widely used solution around the world.
From the onset of the pandemic, WHO engaged with all WHO Regions to define overall guidelines for such certificates. To help strengthen global health preparedness in the face of growing health threats, WHO is establishing a global digital health certification network which builds upon the solid foundations of the EU DCC framework, principles and open technologies. With this collaboration, WHO will facilitate this process globally under its own structure with the aim to allow the world to benefit from convergence of digital certificates. This includes standard-setting and validation of digital signatures to prevent fraud. In doing so, WHO will not have access to any underlying personal data, which would continue to be the exclusive domain of governments.
The first building block of the global WHO system becomes operational in June 2023 and aims to be progressively developed in the coming months.
A long-term digital partnership to deliver better health for all
To facilitate the uptake of the EU DCC by WHO and contribute to its operation and further development, the European Commission and WHO have agreed to partner in digital health.
This partnership will work to technically develop the WHO system with a staged approach to cover additional use cases, which may include, for example, the digitisation of the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis. Expanding such digital solutions will be essential to deliver better health for citizens across the globe.
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. The European Commission and WHO will work together to encourage maximum global uptake and participation. Particular attention will be paid to equitable opportunities for the participation by those most in need: low and middle-income countries.