Ugandans struggle to access digital COVID-19 vaccination certificates

Uganda launches portal to get digital COVID-19 vaccination certificate
Government will issue a vaccination certificate that will confirm that you have been inoculated once all doses of the COVID -19 vaccine have been received

Kampala, Uganda | URN | The Ministry of Health’s failure to address the challenges faced in capturing data of all vaccinated persons who took COVID-19 jabs on its portal has left many Ugandans stranded.

On 31 March 2021, Christine Obonyo received her first COVID-19 jab from Victoria Hospital and three months later, she got her second jab.

In August, the Ministry of Health introduced electronic vaccine certificates with security features to curb forgeries. According to the health ministry’s issuance guidelines, the digital COVID-19 vaccination certificates would be available to all persons fully vaccinated at least 14 days after getting their second shot.

At the time the digital COVID-19 vaccination certificates were introduced, the programme manager of the Uganda National Expanded Programme on Immunization (UNEPI), Dr. Alfred Driwale in an interview with this publication said they had captured all the data of every person who had been vaccinated. At the time, 230,000 people were fully vaccinated.

However, many persons who were among the first 230,000 to be fully vaccinated like Obonyo have struggled to access their digital COVID-19 vaccination certificates.

According to Obonyo, she has spent six months trying to get her certificate. Obonyo explains that she has sent emails, made several phone calls, and also visited health facilities in search of a solution, in vain.

The health ministry is scheduled to introduce COVID-19 compulsory mandates in the country next month. But the question now remains, how many people in the country have certificates.

Last month, the national COVID-19 Incident Commander, Dr. Daniel Kyabayinze told this publication that they are yet to upload data of 6.5 million people to their portal. At that time, Dr. Kyabayinze claimed that the ministry had uploaded data for 3 million people who were vaccinated between March and October.

However, a small survey carried out by this publication revealed that only four out of 10 vaccinated people have a digital COVID-19 travel certificate.

Judith Nabirye says she has sent the Ministry of Health several emails on the issue but has never received a response. She says she has a scheduled trip outside the country in April but is hoping that she will not be inconvenienced due to a lack of a certificate.

“These people are disorganized. They told us to get vaccinated and we did but getting a certificate has turned into a nightmare especially if you have to travel out of the country. The way we do things in Uganda is not serious,” she said.

Dr. Immaculate Ampaire, the Deputy Programme Manager UNEPI says that the matter is being addressed.

“This situation is being addressed but we are having a challenge of data entry into the data system right from the heath facilities. But we hope it will soon be uploaded,” she said.

In November last year during the Health Sector Annual Meeting, the slow rate at which districts were capturing COVID-19 data was widely discussed. At the meeting, District Health Officers attributed the slow entry of data to the lack of technology like computers at health facilities to enable data capture, lack of electricity while others cited the lack of internet.

Others said the lack of data entrants specifically for COVID-19 was an issue that needed to be sorted urgently.

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However, at some health centres like Kiswa, the poor entry of data is being attributed to poor planning before the vaccination exercise could start. A source from the health centre who preferred anonymity says some of the vaccination points especially health centres seemed to have mismanaged the process which has left some people stranded.

“There was poor planning I think. At some places like Victoria hospital, there were no cards by the time vaccination began and this has affected many people. Due to the lack of cards, the data of the first jab was not recorded and that is why many people from there do not have certificates,” the source said.

With a backlog of over 6.5 million people amidst continuous COVID-19 vaccination calls made by health officials so as to meet vaccination targets, the number of Ugandans who are unable to access COVID-19 vaccination certificates might increase before it starts to decrease.