Researchers Identify Barriers to Sharing Public Health Data

Attempts to contain emerging global health threats, like the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa, are hampered by barriers to sharing public health data, according to an international team of researchers.

Attempts to contain emerging global health threats, like the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and sare hampered by barriers to sharing public health data, according to researchers led by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

Although disease surveillance, intervention coverage, vital statistics, and mortality data are some of the most widely collected, they happen to also be underused, according to lead author Willem G. van Panhuis, MD, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at Pitt Public Health.

“Innovative methods for collection of new data are developed all the time, but a framework to share all these data for the global good is seriously lacking,” he said in a statement. “Investments in routine data systems will better position health officials to address ongoing challenges as well as new public health threats, such as the current Ebola epidemic in West Africa.”

The international team of investigators included experts in ethics, law, public health, and epidemiology. The study, published in BMC Public Health, identified 20 real or perceived barriers to data sharing in public health and classified them into 6 categories: technical, motivational, economic, political, legal, and ethical.

“These barriers and categories describe a landscape of challenges that must be addressed comprehensively, not piecemeal,” senior author Donald S. Burke, MD, Pitt Public Health dean and UPMC-Jonas Salk Chair of Global Health, said.

In low- and middle-income countries, in particular, the technical, motivational, and economic barriers are embedded in much larger challenges of health information system capacity, according to the authors. Infrastructure development, capacity building, and efficient financing can help address

To address the political, legal, and ethical barriers, the authors suggest a centralized mechanism to monitor, mediate, and facilitate data sharing among various stakeholders.

“Identifying and classifying these barriers was the first step toward harnessing the potential of data for a new era in population health,” Dr van Panhuis said. “As our knowledge of these barriers increases, so will the opportunities for solutions.”