COVID-19 has been in existence for more than 16 months since the first case was reported in China sometime in November 2019.

Subsequently, it has brought down economies in the world, inclusive of medical tourism in Malaysia, which had RM1.7 billion revenue reported in 2019.

It was projected by the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council in 2018 that by 2020, revenue would be RM2.8 billion. However, with the surge of the pandemic, the loss was inevitable.

Malaysia has commenced vaccination for frontliners since February and soon will move into the second phase, whereby the high risk will be vaccinated, and finally from August it will be for the rest of the citizens and other residents in this country. It’s time that we get prepared to create vaccine passports for our citizens who will start their vaccination soon.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamalludin recently informed there are discussions on this with China and Singapore for the recognition of our digital certificate.

The vaccine passport should not be limited to just vaccination but also to the latest Covid-19 test that has been conducted before travel, which gives options to the public and in-bound medical tourists in case they have not been vaccinated.

Our concerns are on the implementation and recognition of digital vaccination passports for international patients who intend to visit Malaysia for medical tourism as there have been vaccination programmes in many Asean countries before Malaysia.

The Covid-19 pandemic has increased attention on maximising our digital potential.

The healthcare sector recognises the work needed to establish a digital infrastructure that builds trust in patients, particularly medical tourists, and exemplifies safety, both physically and digitally.

One of these areas in the digital structure is a system of digital passports which provide proof of vaccination against Covid-19.

Blockchain technology would be an ideal solution to implement such a system, especially a decentralised blockchain ledger, which would provide anonymity, immutability and more importantly, transparency.

We strongly propose to the government to begin implementing such a system immediately.

We first need universally defined standards for how a digital vaccination passport should work, which can be easily adopted and adapted by other countries.

Beginning regionally would be the best option to test and implement the passport within Asean first and this will serve both medical and commercial tourism.

Whereas locally, we need all stakeholders to collaborate and set the stage for this system from a regulatory perspective to balance prioritising safety and reopening economies.

Scalability must be also be considered where data storage is concerned, to accommodate the population of the nation and inbound patients.

Private hospitals and other related agencies would like to have the Health Ministry play a strong role as a regulatory body, especially for determining authenticity of health vaccination information.

Our proposal would be to commence medical tourism in this manner once a large group of our citizens have been vaccinated but not until the end of the vaccination programme as it will further delay economic recovery.

With this in mind, reimagine a blockchain-enabled Covid-19 registry with the information sitting on a distributed ledger system particularly for Asean.

It acts as the single source of portable and verifiable truth and backbone for various other health apps, tools and interventions in development by government and private entities for both local and international patients.

Through the power of data, it can support targeted Covid-19 public health interventions and revive the economy strategically in an informed way and jump-start the economy.

The benefits from this technology will help project Malaysia’s aspiration to transform our nation into a digitally driven, high-income nation and a regional leader in digital economy, and start the booming medical tourism again like it was in 2019.

Dr Kuljit Singh is Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia president. Comments: