Have you visited Kenya in the past two weeks? Well, the country is fast adopting emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, blockchain and Big Data to attract more visitors through faster passenger clearance.

At the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi, passengers from different countries disembark from their planes and head straight to the Covid-19 screening bay, an exercise that takes approximately 15 minutes compared to several hours in other airports on the continent.

Automated cameras with inbuilt thermometers measure the temperatures of dozens of people in the socially distance queue, displaying the results on a large screen.

Antonia Filmer, a British business lady who recently used the innovation at JKIA recently, reckons how the airport’s digital coordination is speeding up passenger clearance at the airport compared to airports in Europe.

“On arrival in Nairobi just before entry into the immigration offices, our QR codes were scanned and linked to a temperature screening camera. The stream of passengers arrives and their temperature is displayed on their foreheads on the screen,” she said, adding that it makes it easy to know if you are next to someone with fever.

Dubbed Trusted Travel, the tech solution has been hailed by the African Union (AU), through its health agency, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) as a game changer in the control of the spread of Covid-19.

Kenya is the first country on the continent to use the innovation for efficient management of air travels, having been launched on January 9 by the Ministry of Health.

“The ministry has collaborated with the AU and Africa CDC, with technical support from PanaBIOS to implement an online system to authenticate and verify laboratory test certificates for travellers,” Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said.

Africa CDC Director Dr John Nkengasong acknowledged Kenya’s technology prowess and goodwill, for wasting no time in implementing a solution that he believes fosters confidence on the part of Africans doing business within the continent.

He cited Kenya’s recent acquisition of three robots from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which have the capacity to scan between 10 to 100 people per minute from a distance of up to 3.5 metres, as a perfect example of how the country is spearheading the use of emerging technologies in the continent to tame the virus.

“Kenya has always been a trailblazer of innovation in Africa, but it is its commitment to continental integration that makes our collaboration on digital health through Trusted Travel such a powerful showcase of pan-African innovation,” he said.

The system has been developed by the PanaBIOS Consortium, Harare-based tech company Econet Group, Nairobi-based Artificial Intelligence startup Koldchain and Afrochampions.

PanaBIOS is the consortium of Pan-African institutions involving standards organisations, tech companies, AU bodies, the African Tourism Board, Afreximbank, the African Economic Zones Organisation and the African Organisation of Standardisation.

Koldchain has in the past relied on tech researchers from Harvard University to create blend Big Data analytics, blockchain, AI and thermosensitive polymers to monitor vaccines and biotech for breaches, preventing fraud in the process.

AfroChampions Initiative is a project that seeks to mobilise investment funds to help give rise to African economic champions. 

At JKIA, the solutions is being used to verify Covid-19 test certificates for travelers while helping harmonize entry and exit screening across the continent.

It allows travelers to upload their Covid-19 test results online for easy verification by airport health and travel officials and while detecting forged certificates in the process.

“As our economies, schools and borders re-open, Africa needs a harmonized approach to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. This is why we launched this portal as an innovative digital tool to help member states harmonize entry and exit requirements to prevent cross-border transmission on the continent,” said Amira Mohammed, Commissioner for Social Affairs, African Union Commission.

Trusted Travel also provides information on travel requirements at the departure and destination ports and access to a list of government approved laboratories for coronavirus testing in African countries.

This, Africa CDC says, will help establish trust and confidence in test results among government authorities, airlines, transport services operators and other stakeholders in the transport sector across the continent.

Without such a system, the proliferation of user-tampered and fake test and vaccine certificates could undermine efforts to minimize cross-border infections while hampering trans-border economic activities.

​With Africa’s cyberspace becoming vulnerable to cyber-attacks every day, Africa CDC says the portal is secured and safe “and has been developed using international standards of cybersecurity and data protection protocols.”

Other partners involved in the implementation of the Trusted Travel Initiative include the World Health Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nations Development Programme, African Civil Aviation Commission, Airport Council International–Africa, African Airlines Association, and the International Air Transport Association.