Digital vaccine certificates have been a true standard-bearer for technological innovation, both in Senegal and around the world. Their practical implementation, guided by the digital-health-strategy plan, had a timid start but was accelerated by Covid-19. The pandemic was an incentive for digitalisation in the health sector, especially because there were vulnerable groups across Senegal who needed to continue to access vital health care.
For people with other commonly spread tropical diseases such as malaria, those with comorbidities such as diabetes and groups needing constant care at specific times of their lives such as children receiving life-saving immunisations, Covid-19 highlighted the importance of coordination in being able to meet people’s needs on time.
The emergency was the catalyst for cooperation between the Senegal Ministry of Health and the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI). We began working together in March 2021 on a programme that last month passed the milestone of 100,000 vaccinated people receiving their health passes, with important data recorded safely and securely on the Oracle Health Immunisation Management Cloud Service.
By adding the SMART Health Card to the system this year, the programme has become a flagship in the country’s move towards digitalisation. This practical and valuable brand-new health certificate format could be a paper or digital version of each patient’s clinical information, including vaccination history and test results. It allows individuals to keep a copy of their records on hand and easily share information with others whenever they choose.
The SMART Health Card was launched in Senegal in July and, importantly, is internationally recognised by the CommonTrust Network. It meets interoperability standards and is a good candidate for mutual recognition of immunisation certificates. It is a breakthrough innovation because of the effectiveness of the health-pass delivery process, and because of the way it is allowing travellers from Senegal to move safely across the world without much difficulty.
Travel has not been the only benefit of the pass, however. As Dr Maty Diouf, chief medical officer of Dakar Sud district explains, there was life “before the pass, and with the pass”.
“Before the pass, there was not a lot of demand for services, but now people come to the hospital for the pass, but end up getting a check-up as well or going to the lab.” This visibility of public services is key, or what Dr Diouf refers to as “satisfying the patient or client”. As a result of this new and visible SMART Health Card, public-health officials are seeing increased demand for services at hospitals all over the country.
Since deploying the SMART Health Card, the process of issuing vaccination certificates is more automated with an average estimated processing time of two minutes, down from the seven minutes it previously took. Vaccination-certificate issuing has been decentralised to district level, which means health facilities are processing requests from their local communities and patients are better served by proximity, availability and reduced treatment times. Thanks to improvements in the health-pass-delivery workflow, they also have a digital process of generating their certificate themselves from the platform.
Teams have taken a collaborative and participative approach to improving joint action, working towards tangible outcomes, sharing accomplishments and identifying breakthroughs by the Ministry of Health, Oracle and TBI. In many ways, things are just beginning in our work to implement the whole digitalisation strategy and serve as an inspiring model on a broader scale for other areas of development and government priorities. But our early success has already expanded to areas including data-management support, e-health-strategy implementation, digital-unit development, feature improvement, and partnership and capacity building. Watch this space for more exciting successes and learnings.