African Digital Health Passport: The Challenge of Personal Data Protection

With a view to resuming air transport and post-Covid tourism activities, the African Performance Institute (API) took a look at…

With a view to resuming air transport and post-Covid tourism activities, the African Performance Institute (API) took a look at a webinar, on the issue of the protection of personal data in the context of the possible institution of a digital health passport.The Covid-19 pandemic crisis has caused disorder in all economic activities. 

At a time of economic recovery, the equation of people’s mobility remains a complex subject on which States take concerted but not always consistent action. 

The webinar organized by the African Performance Institute (API) was an opportunity for experts to discuss innovative solutions with digital to offer Africans the opportunity to move more freely within the continent. 

As such, the project to establish a digital health passport was at the heart of the discussions at this virtual meeting which recorded the participation of Amira Elfadil Mohamed ElFadile, Commissioner for Social Affairs of the African Union, Lacina Koné, Managing Director of Smart Africa, Ibrahima Nour Eddine Diagne, President of African Performance Institute (API) and Managing Director of Gainde 2000, Dawitte Bekele, Vice-President of the Africa Regional Office of the Internet Society (ISOC), Ibrahima Kane Managing Director of Air Senegal and Oumar Khassimou Dia, Director of Air Transport of Senegal.

 The discussions were moderated by Léocadie Ebakisse of Talent’s Awake. 

Although the project was deemed relevant, concerns were raised about the use of traveller data.

Ivorian Lacina Koné, Managing Director of Smart Africa, argues that this digital project should allow tourists to travel and stay unhindered during the pandemic. 

He believes that with this digital health passport, travellers and airlines will have the confidence to safely transport passengers without Covid-19. 

It notes, however, challenges to achieve this ambition such as the protection of personal data on smartphones where travellers’ health information will be stored. 

He expressed regret that of the 55 countries on the continent, only 12 countries have signed the African Union (AU) Convention on Cyber Security and Protection of Personal Data. Of these, six have ratified the convention. 

In his opinion, in order to arrive at a system that can protect personal data, it is necessary to have a framework at the level of the Regional Economic Communities such as ECOWAS or SADEC. 

“The establishment of a sub-regional regulatory environment is all the more important to govern this initiative across the African Union. This allows us to act with other parts of the world such as Europe or the USA,” argued Mr Koné . 

Speaking on the issue, Amira Elfadil Mohamed ElFadile, Commissioner for Social Affairs of the African Union, recalled that the institution of a digital health passport is not a new idea. 

It called, however, for work to establish a robust infrastructure apt to support this project harmonised regulation

On the issue of personal data protection, the initiator of the webinar, the President of the African Performance Institute (API), Ibrahima Nour Eddine Diagne measured his word. 

“We must have a good balance evaluate costs and opportunities. On issues of digital sovereignty and data protection, our states must be opportunistic. They need to put them forward when it comes to protecting themselves and ignoring them when they have a lot to gain,” said Diagne. 

In his opinion, digital technology has a major role to play in resolving this crisis. 

He observed that wherever there has been a continuity of activities, they have been totally or partially based on digital and digital. 

The questions that Africans must ask themselves at this stage, he said, is what control they must have over this digital. 

The President of API pointed out that the health sector, which has long been relegated to the background of air transport priorities, has become a new challenge for the digital sector. 

According to him, the institution of an African digital health passport, which will take into account all constraints and integrate accredited and non-approved laboratories, must be the subject of reflection for Africans to enable the continent to prepare for the next crises.

 “Today, we have the technological capacity to build initiatives such as the digital health passport. Everyone knows that an international health crisis is possible. This is a topic on which we Africans need to think about in order to build something that suits our continent and is interoperable with what is being done elsewhere in the world,” said the President of API.

To the question of knowing: in the current context, who thinks they can provide concrete solutions? The answers are obvious: 67 percent of listeners think that solutions should come from states and governments, 12 percent from institutions, 18 percent from private actors and 3 percent from associations. 

In a synthesis on this point, the moderator, Léocadie Ebakisse, found it necessary to have a mix of governments and private actors who think individually on how to collaborate with other market players and to find alliances that are convincing. 

For her part, Dawitte Bekele, Vice-President of the Africa Regional Office of the Internet Society (ISOC), pointed out that visa obligations for Africans are quite difficult, and the crisis has made the situation much more complex. 

“Thefts have become scarce, consulates have been closed, some countries have become inaccessible. In addition, there are health requirements such as the covid test certificate requested by the receiving country and the airline,” said Bekele.

In his speech, Oumar Khassimou Dia, Director of Air Transport of Senegal, said that his teams had looked into the issue of the digital health passport, which, he recalled, has two objectives: ensure passenger travel is Covid-free and better supported by local physicians. 

“This passport could have a definite interest if all personal data protection provisions are taken into account. It will restore confidence in travellers,” Dia said. 

His colleague, Ibrahima Kane CEO of Air Senegal reassured the meeting that despite this sanitary situation and the requirements of the protocols, the Senegalese national airline gradually resumes its activities with Dakar-Paris, Dakar-Marseille, and Dakar-Milan flights. 

He also welcomed the harmonization of certain protocols shared by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).