Research information in a public health emergency

It was after the Ebola outbreak in several West African countries that became clear that the current methods of data sharing had major flaws. In order to enhance data sharing, the WHO decided to develop global guidelines that could be used when a major public health threat occurred in the future. The guidelines state that research data and research results should be made public as quickly as possible in order to facilitate further research. In its guidelines the WHO writes, among other things:

Every researcher that engages in generation of information related to a public health emergency or acute public health event with the potential to progress to an emergency has the fundamental moral obligation to share preliminary results once they are adequately quality controlled for release. The onus is on the researcher, and the funder supporting the work, to disseminate information through pre-publication mechanisms, unless publication can occur immediately using post-publication peer review processes.

With the spread of the Zikavirus in 2016 the WHO’s guidelines were activated for the first time. Now during 2020 the current health threat is the Coronavirus. To help combat the threat the WHO have opened a pandemic information portal, and also a Global research portal. In it you can find and download individual publications or the entire database of articles researching the Coronavirus. There are also entry points for researchers and health care staff who are doing clinical trials, and laboratories working to study the virus and developing treatments and vaccines.

Sharing research results early, and make them available to everyone allows for researchers to quickly build on each other’s work. To learn from the experience of others means costly mistakes don’t have to be made twice. It should mean that we get successful Coronavirus treatment and prevention much earlier than we would otherwise have done. Sharing research information for this purpose could be seen as small step for man, but a giant leap for mankind. And it poses the question why it takes a pandemic for scientific publishers to share information openly. Isn’t it just as valuable that everyone can take part of research in for example cancer, heart disease or Alzheimers?

Text: Signe Wulund & Katharina Nordling
Photo: Mostphotos