Sharing public health data and information across borders: lessons from Southeast Asia
BACKGROUND: The importance of data and information sharing for the prevention and control of infectious diseases has long been recognised. In recent years, public health emergencies such as avian influenza, drug-resistant malaria, and Ebola have brought renewed attention to the need for effective communication channels between health authorities, particularly in regional contexts where neighbouring countries share common health threats. However, little empirical research has been conducted to date to explore the range of factors that may affect the transfer, exchange, and use of public health data and expertise across borders, especially in developing contexts.
METHODS: To explore these issues, 60 interviews were conducted with domestic and international stakeholders in Cambodia and Vietnam, selected amongst those who were involved in regional public health programmes and networks. Data analysis was structured around three categories mapped across the dataset: (1) the nature of shared data and information; (2) the nature of communication channels; and (3) how information flow may be affected by the local, regional, and global system of rules and arrangements.
RESULTS: There has been a great intensification in the circulation of data, information, and expertise across borders in Southeast Asia. However, findings from this study document ways in which the movement of data and information from production sites to other places can be challenging due to different standards and practices, language barriers, different national structures and rules that govern the circulation of health information inside and outside countries, imbalances in capacities and power, and sustainability of financing arrangements.
CONCLUSIONS: Our study highlights the complex socio-technical nature of data and information sharing, suggesting that best practices require significant involvement of an independent third-party brokering organisation or office, which can redress imbalances between country partners at different levels in the data sharing process, create meaningful communication channels and make the most of shared information and data sets.