Authors: Moodley K, Cengiz N, Domingo A, Nair G, Obasa AE, Lessells RJ, de Oliveira T
Journal: Lancet Global Health, 2022. DOI:
Data sharing in research is fraught with controversy. Academic success is premised on competitive advantage, with research teams protecting their research findings until publication. Research funders, by contrast, often require data sharing. Beyond traditional research and funding requirements, surveillance data have become contentious. Public health emergencies involving pathogens require intense genomic surveillance efforts and call for the rapid sharing of data on the basis of public interest. Under these circumstances, timely sharing of data becomes a matter of scientific integrity. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the transformative potential of genomic pathogen data sharing became obvious and advanced the debate on data sharing. However, when the genomic sequencing data of the omicron (B.1.1.529) variant was shared and announced by scientists in southern Africa, various challenges arose, including travel bans. The scientific, economic, and moral impact was catastrophic. Yet, travel restrictions failed to mitigate the spread of the variant already present in countries outside Africa. Public perceptions of the negative effect of data sharing are detrimental to the willingness of research participants to consent to sharing data in postpandemic research and future pandemics. Global health governance organisations have an important role in developing guidance on responsible sharing of genomic pathogen data in public health emergencies.