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WHO Dialogues: Sri Lanka shares digital innovations made during pandemic

December 7, 2021, New Delhi A Covid-19 Immunization Tracker (CIT), Smart Vaccination Certificate (SVC) and the National Covid-19 Health Information System (NCHIS) are some of the key digital health innovations supporting COVID-19 information management in Sri Lanka.

These interventions are crucial given the pace of COVID-19 vaccination, which understandably needs to be as rapid as possible. Globally, more than 7.5 billion vaccine doses and in WHO South-East Asia Region 1.7 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered.

Digital information system provides solution to record vaccination status and to issue digital certificates as a proof of vaccination. Sri Lanka has developed a COVID-19 immunization tracker, which is a global good for health information to capture and analyze individual level, disaggregated COVID-19 vaccination information.

Dr Palitha Karunapema, Director of Health Information Unit, Ministry of Health, Government of Sri Lanka, today shared experience of these digital tools in the latest session of WHO Dialogues on “Covid-19 Immunization Tracker and Smart Vaccination Certificate: Sri Lanka”.

The Covid-19 Immunization Tracker captures and analyzes individual data on Covid-19 vaccinations. Designed based on WHO Guidance on developing a national deployment and vaccination plan for Covid-19 vaccines, its main aim is to obtain real-time disaggregated data for proper monitoring and evaluation of implementation of vaccination process. Individual level data such as age, gender, geo-location, vaccine product, are captured by the tracker.

Elaborating on the expected outcomes of this initiative, Dr Palitha said: “These systems help measure coverage over time by geographical areas and target groups, monitor if national policies are being effectively implemented, provide personal vaccination report as per national policies and ensure availability of data for use in surveys, safety and disease surveillance as well as vaccine studies.” Among other things, the benefits include a centralized user support mechanism with minimized time for data entry, aggregated dashboards with daily summary of numbers (cases, doses). Further, this is the application developed on the DHIS 2.

A Smart Vaccination Certificate, a collaborative effort between WHO-Sri Lanka, Ministry of Health and ICTA (Information and Communication Technology Agency), on the other hand, contains a QR code and is cryptographically verifiable. An SVC consists of information of vaccine doses and is unique to a person (non-replicable) in accordance with the WHO guidelines, Dr Palitha said adding that it is also internationally recognized. As a result, it minimizes the need of physical presence and hence reduces the risk of possible contacts.

Similarly, NCHIS generates decision support dashboards with information such as cases, facilities, management outcomes and vaccination. This, again, helps in making high quality data related to PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction)/RAT( Rapid Antigen Testing) available in real-time for easy decision-making, Dr Palitha said.

South-to-South collaboration

To benefit other countries, Sri Lanka shared the metadata of Covid-19 Immunization Tracker with Timor-Leste to help develop their vaccine information system as appropriate to their context. Highlighting the advantages of sharing such initiates with member countries in the Region, Dr Palitha said this can go a long way.

Post-Covid uses of digital health intervention

These digital health innovations made during the pandemic will be useful in monitoring vaccine efficacy, follow-up studies, information source for researches, as a resource for PHC information, and can be adapted to the needs of other programs and outbreaks.

At the same, this is not say that this didn’t bring its own set of challenges, Dr Palitha said, adding that capacity building, infrastructure, technical challenges continued to be hinderances during the process. This is because introducing new digital health interventions need to be carefully planned— needs consultations, agile development process , timely resources and leadership. He also emphasized the importance of creating the enabling digital health eco-system rather than developing applications in silos.

Sharing knowledge and good practices on how to use digital technologies to sustain, accelerate and innovate is important, said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region.

Digital health technologies are recognized as an essential enabling factor for achieving WHO South-East Asia Region’s Flagship Priority Programmes, as well as WHO’s global “triple billion” targets to ensure 1 billion more people benefit from universal health coverage, 1 billion more people are better protected from emergencies and 1 billion more people enjoy better health and well-being.