A mobile application (app) for managing truck drivers’ Covid-19 test information has been credited for curbing the spread of the corona virus and guaranteeing safe trade in the East African Community (EAC).
Launched in September 2020 by the EAC secretariat in partnership with TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) and the European Union, the Regional Electronic Cargo and Drivers’ Tracking (RECDTs) APP has since been downloaded and used by more than 70,000 drivers plying EAC cross-border trade routes.
Speaking at the World Trade Organisation Aid for Trade stocktaking virtual conference held last week, Alban Odhiambo, the TMEA Senior Director Trade Environment noted that the RECDTs APP which is readily available on the Google Play store has two versions; one for drivers and the other for the verification officers at the ports.
“Since we launched the APP in September, 2020, more than 72,900 drivers have downloaded it. This represents more than 90 per cent of the cross border trade drivers in the entire EAC,” Mr Odhiambo said, adding;
“The RECDT APP is currently in English but there are on-going efforts to localize and translate the APP, all its features and training material in to French and other languages. What we have created is a framework which didn’t exist before. As we implement it, it is important that all the partner states support it so that it remains in use for more years to come.”
The RECDTS APP is connected to all border agencies across EAC. When a registered driver takes a COVID-19 test, his/her results are automatically sent to the APP in a QR code format. If a blue QR code is displayed, then the driver is negative, if a black QR code is displayed, then the driver’s results have not been captured and if a red QR code is displayed, then the driver is positive and thus must visit the nearest accredited health centre for immediate management and treatment.
Prior to its roll-out, cross-border truckers were faced with long border queues reaching 80kms at some ports, incurred a lot of costs on multiple COVID-19 tests, accommodation and food as they waited for clearance and stigma from local populations that viewed them as mass corona virus spreaders.
This is however no more after RECDTs introduced mutually recognized COVID-19 certificates, reduced congestion at the borders, eliminated multiple testing and reduced cases of infected drivers.
Caroline Kobusinge, a Health Officer at the Malaba One Stop Border Post noted that with this APP, cross-border truckers are seamlessly cleared because by the time they arrive, their certificates are already in the digital system.
“When a driver arrives, he opens the APP on his phone and displays the QR code to the port health official. The port health official scans the QR code to confirm that the results displayed are authentic and thereafter sends the driver to the immigration official who will also re-scan the same code. If both the health and immigration officials find the results authentic, then the driver is cleared to proceed,” Kobusinge noted.
Additionally, Dr. Atek Kagirita, the Director Public Health at Ministry of Health noted that Uganda is already scaling up the uptake of RECDTs plus including it in the budgeting process so as to ensure sustainability even after the seed funding gets extinct.
“It was during this COVID-19 pandemic that we got to know that Trade and Health must always work hand in hand. It is extremely important that essential goods and services continue to move but without endangering lives. The RECDTs APP has helped us achieve this. In the face of a pandemic, we are all vulnerable so we must continue to work together.
As a Trade Technology Intervention, RECDTs is part of TMEA’s wider USD 23 million Safe Trade Emergency Facility (STEF) that was created in 2020 following the outbreak of COVID-19 to support governments to undertake critical measures along the transport and trade routes that will ensure trade continues safely while protecting livelihoods.
Mr Frank Matsaert, the TMEA chief executive officer noted that because COVID-19 is going to be around for quite longer, EAC’s longer term recovery strategies should be strong on the role of digital and technology in enabling trade and protecting livelihoods.