Wealthy nations have ethical duty to collect public health data

High-income countries must collect public health data to help nations that cannot afford to do the same, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

Wealthy nations have ethical duty to collect public health data

The WHO has issued what it says is the first international framework for ethical public health data collection and use.

It said that there is an ethical obligation to conduct surveillance, analyse the data and act on the results. It should be done in a transparent, ethical and responsible way.

WHO said that surveillance that risks 'stigma, discrimination or perpetuation of inequity' will generate concerns about privacy and protection among the public.

But there was a pressing need to track both occupational diseases like asthma or silicosis and national pandemics like Ebola, it said – and mass data collection is crucial for this to work.

Nations that do not pay attention risk losing citizens’ trust that they can handle outbreaks. And a lack of data makes it harder for governments and clinicians to respond to crises.

Existing guidance is fragmented and often disease-specific, and the WHO's framework aims to offer broad advice, rather than being prescriptive.

The 17 guidelines set out the various trade-offs countries must consider on health surveillance.

These include there being an ethical obligation on the global community to support low income countries. The WHO said some countries will need help creating a 'systematic, formal ethical evaluation'.

Donor nations should not define what data is collected for, and local analysis should be encouraged where possible.

The guidelines also cover the need for having a clear and legitimate purpose for surveillance, evaluating risks for harm to people, and ensuring there is sufficient security and protection in place.