Make Data Sharing Routine to Prepare for Public Health Emergencies

August 16, 2016 by Jean-Paul Chretien, Caitlin M. Rivers, Michael A. Johansson

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In February 2016, Wellcome Trust organized a pledge among leading scientific organizations and health agencies encouraging researchers to release data relevant to the Zika outbreak as rapidly and widely as possible [1]. This initiative echoed a September 2015 World Health Organization (WHO) consultation that assessed data sharing during the recent West Africa Ebola outbreak and called on researchers to make data publicly available during public health emergencies [2]. These statements were necessary because the traditional way of communicating research results—publication in peer-reviewed journals, often months or years after data collection—is too slow during an emergency. The acute health threat of outbreaks provides a strong argument for more complete, quick, and broad sharing of research data during emergencies. But the Ebola and Zika outbreaks suggest that data sharing cannot be limited to emergencies without compromising emergency preparedness. To prepare for future outbreaks, the scientific community should expand data sharing for all health research.