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The Economist is spot-on in identifying transparency in reporting of infectious diseases as a powerful weapon in the global health fight. While Indonesia's government seems to be making moves in the right direction by providing official access to data on avian influenza, the magazine reports, insurgent efforts at transparency are in development, with the Google Foundation head taking charge:
Larry Brilliant, a former WHO official who helped to eradicate smallpox in India, dreams of an open-source, non-governmental, public-access network that would help the world move quickly whenever potential pandemics start brewing. He looks for inspiration to the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN), an obscure programme run by the Canadian government that searches public databases in seven languages looking for early signs of disease outbreak...[Google and others] are helping to develop a new "web crawler" that will expand GPHIN to track newspapers and internet blogs in 40 to 100 languages.
The techno-solution has tremendous promise as an early warning system, but progress will also require greater data-sharing at official levels. And to make that happen, we need to think carefully about the ways in which information is a global public good -- and how information gathering and sharing should be collectively financed, with appropriate incentives to those who face economic or other losses when the divulge data on disease outbreaks.
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.