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Coronavirus accelerates drive to share well being information throughout borders

Data-sharing may help with the subsequent well being disaster however which means privateness and technical points must now be addressed, say specialists. Credit: Samuel Gabreil/Pixabay, licensed underneath the Pixabay licence

Allowing well being information to move extra freely between nations in Europe might help the battle in opposition to coronavirus whereas additionally assist the area be higher ready for future pandemics, however privateness and technical issues must be tackled sooner somewhat than later, say specialists.

In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, sharing data would possibly appear to be an earthly and somewhat unimportant a part of the response to the well being disaster.

But the willingness of nationwide well being companies and researchers to change information throughout worldwide borders is an important component within the battle in opposition to COVID-19.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus was solely new to humankind when it burst into the world in December final 12 months, that means scientists knew little or no about the way it spreads, the disease it causes and, most significantly, the way to deal with it.

But digital expertise—mixed with the need to chop via worldwide pink tape that usually restricts information sharing between nations—has meant discoveries in regards to the virus could be rapidly shared around the globe.

Sharing information has allowed scientists to change genetic sequences from the virus to trace the way it has unfold, enabled docs to rapidly discover ways to spot the signs of the disease, and given hospitals the power to share the most effective methods of treating the virus. Pharmaceutical corporations and researchers have additionally been ready to make use of the details about the virus and affected person immune responses to quickly develop potential vaccines and drug therapies.

“We have seen with the COVID-19 pandemic just how successful sharing information can be in allowing collaboration across international borders,” stated Dr. Niklas Blomberg, director of Elixir, an intergovernmental organisation that coordinates the sharing of knowledge and experience within the life sciences throughout Europe.


Dr. Blomberg says that relationships established as a part of current European analysis initiatives have meant some organisations have been rapidly in a position to adapt to sharing details about coronavirus. He and different specialists consider, nevertheless, that better sharing of well being information between nations and organisations might be important within the ongoing battle in opposition to COVID-19, in addition to serving to to identify future potential pandemics earlier.

Formal, structured methods of sharing information might assist make higher use of the large wealth of well being information collected throughout the EU to sort out different current public well being issues, provides Professor Milan Petković, head of knowledge science on the electronics agency Philips and vp of the industry-led non-profit Big Data Value Association.

“The creation of a common European health data space, in which health information is exchanged cross-border and which enables the participation of a vibrant ecosystem of stakeholders, should be a priority,” stated Prof. Petković, who additionally researches well being information science at Eindhoven University of Technology within the Netherlands.

“This pandemic taught us some important lessons—first, about the importance and value of data sharing, and secondly that we still need to make further steps to improve.”


Sharing the type of information that has been so important within the response to COVID-19 shouldn’t be so simple as popping it into an electronic mail and hitting ship. Lots of well being information comprises private and delicate particulars about sufferers. Other important data is tied up in pink tape that makes it troublesome to share, whereas a whole lot of information is gathered by native hospitals or well being authorities however by no means shared past that.

“We need to unlock the value from data held by public sector bodies,” stated Prof. Petković, who pointed on the nationwide portal to change COVID-19 affected person information within the Netherlands that was arrange by the Netherlands Ministry of Health in collaboration with Philips as a very good instance.

Elixir and plenty of different pan-European initiatives geared toward organising information sharing networks throughout Europe might additionally present examples for the way to overcome a few of these obstacles.

“We’ve been building this infrastructure primarily for the exchange of genomic sequencing data,” stated Dr. Blomberg. “There are nodes in each country that deal with the national coordination of life sciences research data and in particular genomic sequencing data. Then Elixir runs the services that allow member countries to connect and exchange that data.”


Part of that work has concerned growing requirements for a way genomic information must be collected, compiled and shared. Much just like the standardisation of cellular communication networks that enable cellphones to work wherever they’re on this planet, science and well being information additionally must be shared in codecs that can be utilized wherever they’re wanted.

Projects just like the 1+ Million Genomes initiative, which Elixir is concerned in establishing requirements for, are engaged on agreements that can allow giant quantities of genetic and well being information to be shared throughout the borders of European nations.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic came along, we were able to use the foundations (Elixir) had put into place to sequence the genomes of both the virus and the patients,” stated Dr. Blomberg. “It has been useful in helping to see how the virus is mutating and what determines why some people get sick and others don’t get nearly as sick.”

In April, the European Commission established a COVID-19 Data Platform to permit analysis information to be quickly collected and extensively shared, as a part of their ERAvsCorona Action Plan, and have drawn up a manifesto to make COVID-19 analysis outcomes accessible. Many different pan-European initiatives additionally pivoted to search out methods of tackling the pandemic and nations with sturdy nationwide infrastructures to coordinate information assortment responded rapidly. Dr. Blomberg factors to Spain, Germany, the UK, Sweden and different Nordic nations as having sturdy nationwide coordination buildings that allowed them to rapidly share information on the virus.

“Those countries that were not already connected in established projects are requiring a lot more effort when it comes to sharing data,” stated Dr. Blomberg. “And we will face the same challenge in future disease outbreaks. We need to move from data sharing being something that is done in rapid response by the leading laboratories and institutions to being available to every research base in Europe.”

For that to occur, he believes that information sharing must be constructed into the material of all European analysis initiatives in order that data is collected, saved and shared in customary ways in which enable it to be shared overtly.


It additionally must be simpler for people to let the information they generate be used for the general public good, added Prof. Petković. “For instance, a system could be developed at EU level to allow citizens or patients to make their health data available, if they wish so, for research without reference to a particular research project,” he stated.

But this additionally must occur in a manner that may assure the privateness of sufferers whose information is perhaps collected, and that residents can belief.

“In order for healthcare systems and the health industry to deal with a huge block of data, we need to be thinking about privacy by design and security by design,” stated Anett Mádi-Nátor, a senior cyber defence skilled at Hungarian cybersecurity consultancy Cyber Services and a member of the strategic committee of the European Cyber Security Organisation (ECSO).

“Currently, most national healthcare systems are standing at point zero and patients don’t have much control over their own data. We need to take steps to ensure that private individuals’ health data is protected in a much more secure way.”

Part of this can be addressed by initiatives resembling MyHealthMyData and SHiELD, which are trying to develop methods for delicate well being information to be shared in a safer manner. Mádi-Nátor additionally sees a job for artificial intelligence in serving to to label well being care that comprises private data.

“It can mark personal and sensitive data so that it has to be handled with special care and stronger technical support from a cybersecurity perspective,” she stated. “Once these sorts of services are up and running we can start discussing these with the European public to build up trust that will be needed for health data to be handled in a much more clever and useful way.”

An important step alongside this journey was the creation of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) guidelines, however the laptop techniques and databases utilized by most well being providers nonetheless must be up to date to make sure safety is on the coronary heart of their design.

“Most state-owned and managed systems are legacy systems that have no inbuilt security,” added Mádi-Nátor. “Replacing these is not going to happen in one night—it will be a very long process that could take 10-15 years as they are made more secure step by step.”

With international pandemics anticipated to be extra widespread sooner or later, international sharing of well being information might assist the world higher reply. It might additionally contribute to tackling different well being points resembling cancers and uncommon ailments by permitting extra data to be shared between nations.

“COVID-19 has been a really important driver for the European data spaces,” stated Dr. Blomberg. “But it could be leveraged further for other aspects of the health programme. It is a really important opportunity.”

New healthcare codes launched, together with phrases used internationally to trace coronavirus

Provided by
Horizon: The EU Research & Innovation Magazine

Coronavirus accelerates drive to share well being information throughout borders (2020, September 10)
retrieved 10 September 2020

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