Via The Guardian: WHO hails 'swift and positive response' to Zika data-sharing initiative. Excerpt:
The Zika crisis is reaching a critical point. Brazil, the epicentre of the virus, has 863 confirmed cases of infant microcephaly, or brain-virus, which scientists suspect could be caused by the Zika-carrying mosquito. 6,480 cases are under investigation, and the virus has spread across the whole of the Americas. Zika has spread across the globe too – cases have recently been reported in China.
The outbreak has affected 38 countries and territories. The disease is predominantly transmitted via mosquitoes, so in order to contain the virus, effective mosquito control measures need to be in place. The world’s biggest health organisations believe the best way to establish these are to open up data, globally.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Zika to be a global health emergency while simultaneously putting out a call to share more data to stem the spread of the virus.
Dr Adam Kucharski, lecturer in infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine explained how we can observe the transmission of Zika and why data collection is essential: “Like most infectious diseases, we can rarely observe Zika transmission directly. Instead, we rely on data to give us a glimpse into what is really going on; and without good data, the picture will be very blurry indeed.”
Last month, leading global health bodies including the WHO, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Médecins Sans Frontières, and the US National Institute of Health committed to sharing data and results relevant to the Zika crisis and future public health emergencies as openly as possible.
The WHO described the importance of data sharing as one of the “most salient lessons learned during the Ebola crisis. As the disease spread and the world mobilised to understand the virus and find medical countermeasures and other disease control interventions, much valuable knowledge was lost or action delayed because data was not shared in a timely and open manner”.
During any public health emergency, opening up data is vital, says Dr Ben Goldacre, senior clinical research fellow at the University of Oxford. It’s vital because we need to know about how disease is spread and what is working when it comes to disease prevention:
“Some of these are about infrastructure: we need systems and mechanisms in place to ensure data is shared swiftly. But a lot of it is about culture. Some countries may be reluctant to share data, because they have legitimate concerns about not getting credit for producing it, or being harmed as a result of sharing it.
“Academics and journal editors have also been part of the problem: the results of trials and epidemiological surveys are often not shared during a pandemic, and sometimes not shared at all. There have been recent moves through the WHO to try to speed this up, with positive statements from journals and others, but we’re waiting – optimistically – to see if this generates substantive change.”