Retailer Jean-Claude I was heading to one of Togo’s security departments to certify some documents when he was nearly turned away at the entrance.

The digital vaccination passport has a QR code, is unforgeable and contains the data of the holder, who can use it for commute across the country and abroad.

“There were a couple of people who were stopped at the entrance because they did not have their vaccination card or they were not vaccinated. Luckily, I have received my first dose of Pfizer and I had my vaccination card.”

Jean-Claude I’s experience was a result of a government decision in early September to ramp up the vaccine rollout programme due to a spike in COVID-19 cases. The government also temporarily closed churches, mosques and prayer centres as well as bars and restaurants for a month.

As part of this vaccination drive, visitors are now required to produce a vaccination card that shows that they are partially or fully vaccinated to access the premises of state-run institutions.

The requirement has resulted in increased turnout at the 70-plus vaccination centres nationwide.

Togo intends to vaccinate 4.8 million Togolese, with 60% of the general population qualifying for the jab. Any person who completes the process receives a card as proof of vaccination.

But as well as physical vaccine cards, on 28 June the government went digital, launching a secure, digital vaccination passport. It is available online to everyone who is fully vaccinated and registered on the state database.

The digital vaccination passport has a QR code, is unforgeable and contains the data of the holder, who can use it for commute across the country and abroad.

The African Union and Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched a travel app that can display vaccination records and PCR tests earlier this year to allow travel between African countries. However the Togolese initiative is one of the first digital vaccine passports in sub-Saharan Africa designed for use within a country.

“The issuance of the COVID-19 vaccine passport contributes to the achievement of the objectives of the government’s roadmap, which aims at the digitalisation of all the country’s economic sectors,” says Cina Lawson, Minister of Digital Economy and Transformation. “Following the example of Asian countries and the European Union, this forgery-proof and verifiable passport is a proof of vaccination that will facilitate the movement of our vaccinated citizens in the territory and abroad.”

Professor Moustafa Mijiyawa, Minister of Health, Public Hygiene and Universal Access to Health Care, stresses that the digital vaccination passport is one of the government’s ongoing and planned projects at the ministry initiated to improve overall health services in the country.

“The vaccination platform and the vaccine passport make life much easier for health care providers and the public. The many digitalisation projects underway and planned at the Ministry of Health will benefit from feedback on the vaccination platform. This demonstrates the need to use new technologies and to rely on digital technology to improve our health system,” he notes.

As part of efforts to fast-track the vaccination process, authorities, with the support of international partners and the private sector, are also waging a war against fake news and misinformation about the vaccines.

In a country where more than 45% of people over 14 are illiterate, fake news and conspiracy theories about the pandemic are very common. Access to fact-checked information is crucial to boost vaccination figures and help end the pandemic in the country.

Togocheck (www.togocheck.com), a media company launched by the Web Observation and Analysis Center (CO@Web), has helped authorities clamp down on vaccine misinformation through reliable video content in various local languages.

“TogoCheck has distinguished itself during the coronavirus pandemic by producing videos containing reliable information designed to throttle the many misplaced beliefs and rumours about COVID-19 – such as the claim that intense athletic activity prevents infection,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says about the platform created by Florent Tiassou, Noël Kokou Tadégnon, Foli Fafa and others.

“Togocheck has tasked itself with the mission of debunking fake news related to COVID-19,” says Tadégnon, a prominent journalist in the West African country. “With the help of specialists, doctors and different documentary sources, we try to bring the right information to the population, who are under an indescribable flow of false information related to the pandemic.”

The digital media outlet has received financial backing from the German development agency GIZ, UNDP SDGs accelerator in Togo and the International Organisation of the Francophonie (OIF).

Connect with Nephthali Messanh Ledy on Twitter at @NephLedy

TOPICS: Country storiesCOVID-19Innovation

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