Equitable data sharing in epidemics and pandemics

BMC Medical Ethics 22 (1):1-14 (2021)
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Abstract

BackgroundRapid data sharing can maximize the utility of data. In epidemics and pandemics like Zika, Ebola, and COVID-19, the case for such practices seems especially urgent and warranted. Yet rapidly sharing data widely has previously generated significant concerns related to equity. The continued lack of understanding and guidance on equitable data sharing raises the following questions: Should data sharing in epidemics and pandemics primarily advance utility, or should it advance equity as well? If so, what norms comprise equitable data sharing in epidemics and pandemics? Do these norms address the equity-related concerns raised by researchers, data providers, and other stakeholders? What tensions must be balanced between equity and other values?MethodsTo explore these questions, we undertook a systematic scoping review of the literature on data sharing in epidemics and pandemics and thematically analyzed identified literature for its discussion of ethical values, norms, concerns, and tensions, with a particular emphasis on equity. We wanted to both understand how equity in data sharing is being conceptualized and draw out other important values and norms for data sharing in epidemics and pandemics.ResultsWe found that values of utility, equity, solidarity, and reciprocity were described, and we report their associated norms, including researcher recognition; rapid, real-time sharing; capacity development; and fair benefits to data generators, data providers, and source countries. The value of utility and its associated norms were discussed substantially more than others. Tensions between utility norms and equity norms were raised.ConclusionsThis study found support for equity being advanced by data sharing in epidemics and pandemics. However, norms for equitable data sharing in epidemics and pandemics require further development, particularly in relation to power sharing and participatory approaches prioritizing inclusion. Addressing structural inequities in the wider global health landscape is also needed to achieve equitable data sharing in epidemics and pandemics.

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