Ushering in a New Era of Global Health Security: European Commission and WHO Launch Transformative Digital Health Partnership

Ushering in a New Era of Global Health Security: European Commission and WHO Launch Transformative Digital Health Partnership

Today marks a historical day in the realm of global health as the European Commission and the World Health Organization (WHO) unveil a pioneering digital health initiative.

From June 2023, the WHO will adopt the European Union's (EU) digital COVID-19 certification system to establish a worldwide network. This global system is aimed at enhancing global mobility and safeguarding citizens around the world from current and future health threats. This initiative forms the cornerstone of the WHO's Global Digital Health Certification Network (GDHCN), which is slated to develop an extensive array of digital products to ensure improved health outcomes for all.

Based on the EU Global Health Strategy and the Global Strategy on Digital Health from WHO Member States, the initiative ensues the agreement signed on 2nd December 2022 between Commissioner Kyriakides and WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. This pact was put into effect to augment strategic cooperation on global health issues. Such cooperation further bolsters a strong multilateral system with the WHO at its core, powered by the robust EU.

The partnership promises to bring together the best of both entities in the development, management, and implementation of the WHO system, leveraging the European Commission's comprehensive technical expertise in the field. The first order of business is to ensure that the current EU digital certificates continue to function effectively.

A hallmark of the EU's response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been the digital COVID certificate. The EU swiftly established interoperable COVID-19 certificates, known as the 'EU Digital COVID Certificate' or 'EU DCC.' The certificate, based on open-source technologies and standards, connected non-EU countries issuing certificates according to EU DCC specifications, making it the most widely adopted solution globally.

From the inception of the pandemic, WHO has worked closely with all WHO Regions to establish universal guidelines for such certificates. To bolster global health preparedness amid escalating health threats, WHO is establishing a global digital health certification network. This network is built upon the solid foundations of the EU DCC framework, principles, and open technologies. In this collaboration, WHO aims to facilitate the process globally under its structure, thereby enabling the world to benefit from the convergence of digital certificates. This includes standard-setting and validation of digital signatures to prevent fraud. It is important to note that WHO will not access any underlying personal data, which will continue to be the sole domain of the respective governments.

The first component of the global WHO system is slated to become operational in June 2023, with a vision to be progressively developed in the subsequent months.

A long-term digital partnership to deliver better health for all

To assist the integration of the EU DCC by WHO and contribute to its operation and further development, the European Commission and WHO have pledged to partner in digital health. The partnership aims to technically evolve the WHO system with a staged approach to incorporate additional use cases. These may include, for instance, the digitization of the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis. The expansion of such digital solutions is vital in delivering better health for global citizens.

This collaboration is firmly rooted in shared values and principles of transparency, openness, inclusiveness, accountability, data protection and privacy, security, scalability at a global level, and equity. Both the European Commission and WHO are committed to encouraging maximum global uptake and participation. Special emphasis will be placed on equitable opportunities for participation by those most in need, particularly low and middle-income countries.

With almost 80 countries and territories now connected to the EU Digital COVID Certificate, the EU has set a global standard. The EU certificate has not only been a vital tool in the fight against the pandemic but has also facilitated international travel and tourism. As Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market, shared on June 4, 2023, "I am 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."

The EU Digital COVID certificate has also been recognized as an essential tool for safe travel during the COVID pandemic. Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, emphasized the significance of the certificate on June 4, 2023: "It is emblematic of a European Health Union that can deliver tangible benefits for citizens. 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. There is no better partner than the WHO to advance the work we started in the EU and further develop global digital health solutions."

In similar support for the initiative, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, shared his thoughts on June 4, 2023: "Building on the EU’s highly successful digital certification network, WHO aims to offer all WHO member states access to an open-source digital health tool, which is based on the principles of equity, innovation, transparency and data protection and privacy. New digital health products in development aim to help people everywhere receive quality health services quickly and more effectively."

With this landmark partnership, the world takes a significant leap towards better health for all, showcasing a united front against health threats and a commitment to safe, equitable global mobility. The cooperation between the European Commission and WHO has the potential to revolutionize global health security, and it is eagerly anticipated to see how this partnership unfolds in the months to come.