Tanzanian air travellers can now enjoy faster clearances at airports, thanks to a common continental Covid-19 digital passport innovation developed by the African Union (AU), through its lead health agency, the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).
The technology platform, known as Trusted Travel, will enable passengers from Tanzania and across Africa to securely and easily verify compliance with Covid-19 test or vaccine travel requirements issued by their destinations of choice.
The solution, provided at no cost by the AU to African airlines, has been in use since March 2021 and has seen delays and long queues at airports gradually becoming a thing of the past for passengers boarding Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways and Asky Airlines.
This indicates a change of mindset for the continent, which for many decades has relied on technology from developed nations to solve its challenges.
Developing its own technology means gathering data for its own use, compared to the much criticized tendency of the West and the East of imposing technology on Africa and Africans so they can siphon off valuable data for free.
The new platform has been designed to be capable of incorporation into airlines' own apps, so air travellers can easily understand what they need before they fly. AU said they can also be accessed directly by travellers.
Getinet Tadesse, Chief Information Officer at Ethiopian Airlines said the solution will help to validate test and vaccination certificates and verify that they are sufficient for different routes and share testing or vaccination certificates with airlines and authorities to facilitate travel.
He noted that the innovations will also help immigration officials keep fraudulent documentation at bay and make air travel more convenient.
"We are pleased to have introduced a digital platform that will be pivotal in increasing the number of passengers while making air travel safer. We are striving to make travel safe and seamless especially with regard to the implementation of Covid-19 prevention strategies," he said.
It is also becoming easier for passengers to share the test and vaccination certificates with authorities and airlines to facilitate travel through the Trusted Testing Code (TT Code) which shows that the test was done in an approved Trusted Lab.
The TT Code is used as evidence of the test to generate a Travel Code (TC) for international travel. TT Code and TC are now unique African inventions for travel clearance management in the context of international travel in a health emergency.
Ahadu Simachew, chief executive officer of Asky Airlines notes that improved quality in travel regulation management across Africa will be key to help restore travel, tourism, trade, investment, cultural exchange and Pan-African integration to the positive and uplifting trajectory that underscores the Africa Rising narrative.
"As the airline set up to promote Africa's socioeconomic transformation, Asky couldn't be prouder of its support for and promotion of Africa's leadership in developing and rolling out ahead of the rest of the world innovations that de-risks full reopening of societies and economies but one that does so without leaving any African behind," he said.
Africa CDC has so far mobilised a broad multi-stakeholder public private partnership with the help of its strategic partners, the PanaBIOS Consortium and Zimbabwe's Econet, aiming to erase hurdles in accessing accurate health information, high costs and inconvenience in cross border travel, and poor data for health policy and biosecurity planning.
Dr John Nkengasong, director of the Africa CDC, observes that partnership with all African airlines will be critical in the present context.
"The scale of the challenge presented by Covid-19 demands an unprecedented level of both innovation and cooperation, which is why decisions by Kenya, Ethiopia, West and Central Africa to adopt the Trusted Travel platform marks a milestone in the continent's ongoing fight against this pandemic's potential to suppress Africa's development ambitions," he said.
Ethiopian Airlines alone serves 40 African nations, Kenya Airways 37 countries in the continent while Asky Airlines flies across 25 African cities, together forming a a huge chunk of Africa's air traffic that will use the digital passport portal.
But globally, experts have questioned whether a coronavirus vaccine passport needs to be different from the vaccine card system already in place.
"I honestly don't think there's a need for it to be a separate thing," says Henry Raymond, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health. "The vaccine is not a free pass to get out of wearing a mask."
The European Union recently proposed a Digital Green Certificate to facilitate the safe and free movement of citizens within the EU during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It said it would be digital proof that the person has been vaccinated, tested negative or recovered from the coronavirus. Africa's move to join digital solutions remains in tandem with the EU's travel measures, ensuring Africans travel to European countries without much restriction.
The UNDP has also sponsored a complementary system, Global Haven, to ensure that travellers coming from outside Africa can be accommodated by the AU's digital clearance process. Global Haven relies on a machine learning anti-fraud mechanism to enhance process integrity.