Barriers to the sharing of public health data hamper decision-making efforts on local, national, and global levels, and stymie attempts to contain emerging global health threats. That is the conclusion of an international team of experts led by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

The analysis, published in the journal BMC Public Health and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, classifies and examines the barriers in order to open a focused international dialogue on solutions.

The team, which included experts in ethics and law, as well as public health and epidemiology, identified more than 1,400 scientific publications related to public health data sharing, ultimately winnowing them down to the 65 most relevant articles. From those, they determined 20 real or perceived barriers to data sharing in public health and classified them into six categories: technical, motivational, economic, political, legal and ethical.

The team found that most technical, motivational and economic barriers are deeply embedded in much larger challenges of health information system capacity, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Solutions lie in sufficiently funding such systems through international cooperation and shared development of data and infrastructure used across agencies and institutes.

The political, legal, and ethical barriers will require a dialogue across international agencies that should include the World Health Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, and World Trade Organization, as well as the countries, development and funding agencies, and experts in ethics and law. The team proposes the creation of a treaty for data sharing in public health across the world, as well as a commission to monitor, mediate, and facilitate data sharing.

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

The study is available here.

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