EC and WHO Launch Digital Initiative to Strengthen Global Health Security

EC and WHO Launch Digital Initiative to Strengthen Global Health Security

The European Commission and the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the launch of a landmark digital health partnership. 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 Stella Kyriakides and WHO Director-General 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. The first step is to ensure that the current EU digital certificates continue to function effectively.

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.

To help strengthen global health preparedness in the face of growing health threats, WHO is establishing a global digital health certification network that 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 to allow the world to benefit from the 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 will become operational this month and aims to be progressively developed in the coming months.

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 digitization of the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis. Expanding such digital solutions will be essential to deliver better health for citizens across the globe.