Declan Butler, reporter This is the personal blog of Declan Butler, a senior reporter at Nature. All views expressed here are mine, and not those of Nature. Contact me at

August 30, 2006

More on flu data access scheme

Filed under: avian influenza,Neglected diseases,Open data,Standards — admin @ 7:33 pm

Nature has an Editorial in this week’s edition — ‘Boosting access to disease data’ — on the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID) — see previous post. It also has a short news story — ‘Plan to pool bird-flu data takes off.’

Some excerpts from the Editorial:

“A new agreement by stakeholders to improve the sharing of flu data should eventually stimulate research on many infectious diseases. Now to make it work.”

“Regarding human cases, the World Health Organization (WHO), while supportive of wider sharing, has been criticized for timidity in pressing countries to release material. But the WHO, like the FAO and OIE, ultimately answers to its member states. Moreover, its priority is not research but the prompt assessment and control of human cases. It has been understandably reluctant to tamper with its existing system, in which countries make samples and data available to a small group of WHO-affiliated labs on a password-protected database. Although imperfect, at least this approach gives it access to much of the genetic, epidemiological and clinical data it needs.”

and the bottom line:

“GISAID’s broad endorsement of the goal of prompt sharing from multiple stakeholders, often with conflicting interests, is in itself progress and a tribute to the diplomacy of those involved. Tangible evidence of change has also come from the Indonesian government and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which both announced in August that they would share all flu genomic data; they should be congratulated on having the courage to change policy.

Agreement on the principles of GISAID is only a beginning, however. Prompt progress in establishing the ground rules for sharing will be essential to build confidence and momentum. Governments need to support laboratory capacities in those countries that need it most, where surveillance is weak. And unless donor countries also provide more funds and technical support to fight the disease in animals, which is the reservoir of human cases, we are likely to have more data to share on avian flu than we would like.”

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