Sharing public health data and information across borders: lessons from Southeast Asia

This paper examines technical and policy challenges to the sharing of public health data and information across borders, presenting findings from interviews with stakeholders in Cambodia and Vietnam.

Dr

Marco Liverani

(He/Him)

Associate Professor

The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Dr Marco Liverani is Associate Professor in Health Policy and Systems in the Department of Global Health and Development, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He holds joint appointments with Nagasaki University and Mahidol University in Bangkok.

This paper examines technical and policy challenges to the sharing of public health data and information across borders, presenting findings from interviews with stakeholders in Cambodia and Vietnam.

Key Takeaways

  • Shared data from different countries can be used only to a limited extent to draw a regional map of disease burden, given gaps in national information systems and imbalances in their ability to provide an estimate of the true disease incidence.
  • Perceptions about the reliability of the information source can affect the credibility of international communications about public health emergencies.
  • Different levels of technical proficiency and ownership of data and data collection systems impact on the ability of country partners to share data and speak confidently at international meetings.
  • Gaps in capacities to finance bilateral cooperation result in imbalances in decision-making power, including the power to set the agenda of international health meetings.
  • Local rules and arrangements shape the ability of local stakeholders to share public health data in variable ways, resulting in potential asymmetries in data exchange between partners even when informal agreements exist to promote international cooperation.

How To Apply Insights

  • This 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.
  • In Southeast Asia, past experiences in regional cooperation illustrate significant involvement of third-party brokers in public health programmes, including coordinating offices of disease surveillance networks, the WHO, and regional organisations such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Today, ASEAN is in a good position to play a more proactive role in regional health cooperation and should be further supported to act as a data sharing broker and a catalyst for all stakeholders involved.

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About this research

    This research received external funding from:

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        Why This Research Matters

        It is well recognised that sharing public health data within and across countries is crucial to the prevention and control of infectious diseases, particularly in regions where frequent movements of people or animal carriers facilitate disease emergence and transmission. However, international health cooperation is notoriously difficult to achieve due to the divisive force of state politics and interests, gaps in domestic capacities, and weaknesses in institutional frameworks to support collective action. This study provides a systematic assessment of these issues “in vivo” from the perspective of health authorities and practitioners in Cambodia and Vietnam as well as policy recommendations. As such, it can be relevant to stakeholders in Southeast Asia as well as in other parts of the world where efforts to strengthen regional health cooperation are being made, including Africa and Latin America.

        Findings & Research Conclusions

        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 that “data journeys” from production sites to other places can be challenging.

        While global standards, guidelines, and rules have been developed to facilitate health data and information sharing, states remain the main framework for the organisation of societies and their institutions, including the health sector. As a result, health information systems are variably shaped by national structures, capacities, rules, and differing approaches to data collection, validation, reporting, and dissemination.

        Given these differences, the establishment of regional public health systems requires considerable efforts to harmonise different practices and standards, iron out discrepancies, and create a common platform which can promote equitable exchange and fruitful use of shared data.

        Research's methodology

        This project involved qualitative interviews with 60 domestic and international stakeholders in Cambodia and Vietnam, selected due to their involvement in regional public health networks and programmes.

        Reference this research

        Liverani, M., Teng, S., Le, S, M., Coker, R. (2018). Sharing public health data and information across borders: lessons from Southeast Asia. Globalization and health, 14 (94), 1-12.

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