Like the rest of the world, Bangladesh has been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. With the outbreak of COVID-19, the country faced challenges in procuring essential supplies within a severely constrained global supply chain. Under this critical situation, Bangladesh acted quickly and started a mass vaccination campaign, setting an ambitious target of vaccinating 80 percent of its population (over 138 million people).
Challenges to the campaign included ensuring supply management within a short time, tracking the vaccination programme through technology and training healthcare workers all over the country within the timeline. Most rural populations in the country live below poverty level, have limited access to the internet and may not have the digital devices needed to register for vaccination. Digital literacy and understanding of the mass campaign presented other operational challenges.
Towards a Solution
To address the challenge above, the Government of Bangladesh developed the Surokkha platform to manage the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out. This online system is used to register citizens, issue vaccination cards, schedule management and provide Smart Vaccination Certifications and global verification of the certificates, the latter of which are playing a vital role in travelling abroad. This initiative is contributing to SDG 3 (ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages).
The Surokkha system is a public service innovation moving service delivery closer to the doorsteps of citizens, especially important during the COVID-19 emergency situation. The objective of this new system is primarily to ensure that all citizens have access to vaccines through online self-registration, and to improve the quality of government services and allow for transparency and accountability through the use of information technology.
A transparent database was created of recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine, which supports statistics gathering related to the COVID-19 vaccine and is helping the government make informed decisions about the vaccine roll-out and for future health emergencies. To ensure coverage of all beneficiaries, the system was implemented in collaboration with and engagement of a number of government institutions, which conferred ownership to a variety of actors and secured a proper roll-out. The system was designed by the country’s expanded programme on immunization (EPI), management information system (MIS), Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), which cooperated with the Department of ICT.
Many governmental and non-governmental organizations have engaged with the system, including the Ministry of Education, Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education and the University Grant Commission. Using the Surokkha system, foreign diplomats, foreign nationals and migrant students are reached through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, migrant workers through the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training and special needs children though the Ministry of Social Welfare. All the country’s district, sub-district and union-level offices are aligned with the system.
The Surokkha system initially targeted priority groups, people in urban areas and other densely populated areas. Now, the system targets all metropolitan areas, sub-districts and villages for all citizens 12 years of age and above. Vaccines are available to everyone, including persons in refugee camps, at no cost. To extend the initiative to those who do not have digital access (internet and digital devices), volunteers are working at more than 5,000 union digital centres throughout the country. On-the-spot registration and vaccination are available for disabled and senior citizens.
At time of writing, about 100 million people had registered on the platform using national identity cards, passports and birth certificates to receive the first, second and third doses of vaccines. As of March 2022, approximately 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered through the Surokkha system.
The Surokkha system proved scalable and secure and enhanced the government’s monitoring and decision-making capability. The system is one its kind in terms of execution, from developing the system to implementing it, involving a number of government ministries and keeping fixated on the single goal of achieving maximum vaccination. Through the Surokkha system, the government has been able to successfully implement and manage COVID-19 vaccination, a huge milestone. The system found easy ways to reach mass numbers of people and to motivate their active involvement through digital centres in areas lacking access to digital devices and where digital literacy is low. The government's engagement in media outreach, including social media, played a vital role.
Due to the success of the Surokkha system, the Director General of Health Services is interested in using the system for routine child vaccinations to cover 45 million children under the expanded programme on immunization (EPI). This system has the potential to be transferred and adapted to other countries as well, particularly since the system is already available in both English and Bengali. However, it does require recipient countries to have the right digital infrastructure.