Fighting False Immune Travel Certificates with Frontier Technologies

Harare – At the main bus terminal in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, travelers traveling to neighboring Zambia can be tempted by offers of forged travel vaccination certificates. A thriving black market there is selling fake evidence of vaccination for between $ 15 and $ 20, says Dr. Integrity Mchechesi, who works with a technology firm to combat such counterfeiting.

Counterfeit vaccination certificates for lives can endanger lives and fight disease control. “We estimate that about 80% of the travel cards in yellow fever in Zimbabwe are counterfeit,” says Dr Mchechesi, co-founder and head of innovation at Vaxiglobal, a travel health consultant.

Vaxiglobal is working with laboratories in Zimbabwe and Zambia, airlines and technology companies to set up a secure and approved digital authentication system for travelers’ vaccination.

Built on blockchain technology, a decentralized online record keeping system, the database cannot be tampered with.

“It is often impossible for busy border authorities to verify the names of doctors and the alleged location of vaccinations by phone or email,” said Dr Mchechesi, also a senior medical officer at Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare.

“After vaccination, the laboratories create a digital record in our system. The traveler receives a QR code on a mobile app or on paper, which is immediately verified by the border authorities, who can see where they got the vaccine and to who gave it, as well as the lot number of the vaccine, which protects the authenticity of each vaccine. ‘

According to Dr Mchechesi, many vaccines are left unused in Zimbabwe, leading to manufacturers increasing the price of production. By reducing the number of vaccines protected, the initiative ultimately aims to lower the price of vaccines.

The digital verification system went live in early 2020, and in April the team worked with laboratories across Zimbabwe to use the COVID-19 certification system. Since then, more than 1,500 certificates have been verified, and seven airlines now use the system at Robert Mugabe International Airport in Harare. As more of the ports in Zimbabwe reopen, the team aims to expand the system under the leadership of the Ministry of Health.

“We have recently received approval from the Government of Zimbabwe, and it is now a major agreement as the borders between many African countries have opened up,” said Dr Mchechesi.

“All travelers should be aware of the vaccination system, and our system should help reduce the transmission speed across borders.”

The Vaxiglobal team is in talks with the government of South Africa for a possible launch in the country and even a final implementation in the 15 countries of the Southern African Development Community.

The team works with biometric data companies to make verification even simpler through a cloud-based biometric data system that does not even require QR codes.

Vaxiglobal has been working with the World Health Organization’s African Innovation Team since 2018 to shape, develop and scale the initiative. “It has been incredibly fascinating to see Vaxiglobal’s evolving business model focus on maximizing the health impact for the African people,” said Dr Moredreck Chibi, Regional Innovation Adviser for the WHO Africa Region.

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