CovidjThree major airlines in Africa have announced that they are joining forces with the Africa CDC to promote a common African Union (AU) backed digital travel pass and vaccine passport system – Trusted Travel – even as carriers grapple with reduced profits due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
By Peter Murumba From KENYA
Two of the airlines, Ethiopian Airlines and ASKY adopted the platform barely a month apart, after Kenya’s carrier, KQ started using it in the management of seamless international travel in a bid to make continental travel easier and safer amidst the pandemic. They join seven other airlines that are currently integrating into the AU system but are yet to publicly announce.
The AU Trusted Travel platform, a system developed by the Africa CDC with support from the AfroChampions and Koldchain backed PanaBIOS Consortium and African telecom giant, Econet, helps international travellers meet COVID-19 testing and vaccine requirements set by governments.
The platform contains information on travel requirements at the destination ports. It also gives travellers access to a list of approved laboratories conducting the COVID-19 tests in Africa.
More recently, the UNDP sponsored an affiliated alliance called, Global Haven, to connect Trusted Travel adopting airlines and governments with international laboratories so that travellers from outside Africa can also enjoy a seamless travel experience.
“The airline, set up to promote Africa’s socioeconomic transformation, is proud to promote innovations that de-risk full reopening of societies and economies without leaving any African behind,” said Chief Executive Officer of the Pan-African Airline formed by the initiative of West & Central African governments -ASKY, Mr. Ahadu Simachew.
Remarking on the implementation of travel pass Ethiopia Airline Chief Information Officer Mr. Getinet Tadesse said the airline is offering new digital opportunities to passengers so as to fully and safely restore air travel.
“We are pleased to have introduced a digital platform that will be pivotal in increasing the number of passengers while making air travel safer. The solution is capable of addressing passengers’ travel needs during COVID -19 pandemic as it helps them validate their test and vaccination documents before departure. As a safety first airline, we are striving to make travel safe and seamless especially with regard to the implementation of COVID-19 prevention strategies,” said Mr Tadesse.
Africa CDC mobilised a broad multi-stakeholder public private partnership with the help of its strategic partners, the PanaBIOS Consortium and Econet, and with the objective of addressing current challenges posed by citizens’ and institutions’ difficulty in accessing accurate health information, high costs and inconvenience in cross border travel, and poor data for health policy and biosecurity planning.
“The Trusted Travel pass program will ensure country regulations regarding COVID-19 travel requirements are met with minimal room for error and hassle to the travelling public,” according to a briefing by the Africa CDC.
The trusted travel pass solution will help to validate test and vaccination certificates and verify that they are sufficient for their route and share testing or vaccination certificates with airlines and authorities to facilitate travel. The solution will also avoid fraudulent documentation and make air travel more convenient. The platform is a standardized and tamper-proof transcontinental digital applications suite used in COVID-19 monitoring, spatial risk factors analytics, mass testing, hotline scanning, and cross border contact tracing.
Dr. John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa CDC welcomed the move by Ethiopian Airlines and ASKYS the adoption of Trusted Travel a “pioneering spirit” that “underscores how partnerships are critical in the present context” when international travels grapples with a global public health issue.
“The scale of the challenge presented by COVID-19 demands an unprecedented level of both innovation and cooperation, which is why Ethiopian’s laudable decision to come on board Trusted Travel marks a watershed in the continent’s ongoing fightback against this pandemic’s quest to suppress the Africa’s development ambitions,” he added.
So far laboratory registries in 35 African countries have been digitised in the Trusted Travel platform, with more to follow. The UNDP-backed Global Haven program, which also utilises machine learning algorithms to detect fraud, has supported onboarding by labs in 17 countries in Europe and North America.
Continent-wide adoption of Trusted Travel pass will ensure travellers use COVID-19 test results obtained in one country to satisfy port clearance requirements across the continent. This will remove duplication of travel requirements such as repeated COVID-19 tests.
Efforts to promote the adoption of Trusted Travel Pass come at a time when the AU is strengthening the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), an agreement designed to create the world’s largest free-trade zone judged by membership.
AfCFTA is one of the flagship projects of the First Ten Year Implementation Plan (2014-2023) under the AU’s Agenda 2063. According to the AU, Africa has a combined gross domestic product of USD$3.4 trillion.
Implemented in January after years of delay, AfCFTA has created the world’s biggest trade area by number of countries participating.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) predicts a drop in Africa’s growth due to COVID-19. UNECA estimates Africa will record growth of 2.8 per cent with risk of zero growth if COVID-19 spirals out of control this year.
More gloom awaits if the COVID-19 places economic battering on the continent. About 20 million people may be forced into poverty due to COVID-19. Currently, over 300 million do not afford one meal a day.
The AU believes technology based solutions are key in the resumption of safe air travel that will, in turn, catalyse continental integration and accelerate intracontinental trade and investment.
One of the major technology platforms the AU hopes will re-catalyze free movement and thus boost intra Africa trade is Trusted Travel.