Africa: MSF Pioneers Opening Up Access to Humanitarian Data

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is pioneering an open-access approach within the humanitarian sector in the hope that other medical aid organisations will follow suit.

MSF decided to make the data of its clinical and research staff collect freely available online, says a report published in PLOS Medicine last month (10 December). This is the first time a medical humanitarian organisation has fashioned a policy to openly share its data, MSF says.

By making its medical data open access, MSF will enable other scientists to conduct further research on them, potentially leading to health benefits for the vulnerable and neglected communities where MSF works, says Leslie Shanks, who led the development of MSF’s data-sharing policy.

One of the purposes of writing the PLOS Medicine article about their new policy was “to encourage other organisations to consider developing their own policies,” she says.

Ross Upshur, who sits on MSF’s Ethics Review Board, says: “It’s a brave, bold step and a necessary one. There’s a need for accountability within the humanitarian sector to monitor and evaluate their interventions and take appropriate steps to improve performance and their work.”

Jimmy Whitworth, head of international activities at charitable foundation the Wellcome Trust, also welcomes the move. “Obviously it’s difficult in emergency care and refugee situations to collect a lot of data and do research,” he says. “So to have data coming out in that area is going to be really valuable to improve what we’re doing.”

In particular, Shanks hopes that researchers from communities where MSF’s data originated will be able to access and use it.[Full story]