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Data sharing in the fight against COVID-19

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WHO world map Covid-19 data visualisation 270421

A positive outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic is the unprecedented rapid international sharing of data that has helped researchers fast-track their understanding of the infection biology and epidemiology of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the development of effective treatments and vaccines.

Shortly after the COVID-19 outbreak was reported in China, publicly available data was aggregated, summarised, monitored and visualised, outlining the spread of the disease worldwide. The number of affected countries, people, tests, deaths and recoveries related to the virus has been reported daily ever since, making this health data openly available in a way never seen before.

Open access to data is vital

Open access to data has been vitally important to researchers in the fight against COVID-19. Early in the pandemic, initiatives such as the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s “COVID-19 Open”, a data sharing and reporting protocol, encouraged researchers to share data as quickly and widely as possible. Rapid data sharing has proven to be an imperative for public health decision making and action by governments and health authorities worldwide.

Data experts in the Research Data Alliance (RDA), of which AARNet is a member, also swiftly came together to tackle COVID-19. As an international, consensus-driven, community-based organisation, the RDA was approached to leverage the global RDA data community to support the urgent Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. In response, RDA set up the RDA COVID-19 Working Group to clearly define guidelines on data sharing and re-use under the present COVID-19 circumstances to help researchers follow best practices and maximise the efficiency of their work. These guidelines focus on the management of data originating from different data sources and the development of a system for data sharing in public health emergencies that supports scientific research.

National research infrastructure

Researchers at many of our shareholder institutions have contributed data to the global collaborative effort, supported by national research infrastructure that enables data sharing and collaboration, such as the network infrastructure provided by AARNet.

The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity at the University of Melbourne, for example, was the first to grow the virus outside of China and share it with public health laboratories nationally and the WHO. The University of Sydney’s Professor Edward Holmes was the first to publish the genome sequence of the coronavirus, although it was his colleague, Professor Yong-Zhen Zhang at Fudan University in China, who initially sequenced the SARS-CoV-2 genome code. The Garvan Institute of Medical Research genome sequencing, Monash University antiviral drug modelling, University of Queensland vaccine development, CSIRO Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness vaccine testing and CSIRO data analytics, scenario planning and modelling for understanding the spread of the virus, to call out only a few of many initiatives across the Australian research sector, have contributed, and accessed, data to help with the global response to the pandemic.

Lesson learnt

The lesson learnt from the COVID-19 crisis is that research collaboration across borders and timely access to data can improve opportunities for discovery and innovation and how global crises are managed. To this end, AARNet is involved in initiatives that aim to develop research infrastructure that makes the national and global exchange of data easier. We are a member of the RDA Technical Advisory Board, which is working on developing global standards for inherently findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (FAIR) data sharing. We are also contributing to Science Mesh, a foundational component of the European Open Science Cloud, which aims to federate existing and emerging data infrastructures with the objective of offering a virtual environment in Europe and globally to share and re-use research data across borders and disciplines.

AARNet is committed to providing infrastructure and services that help researchers solve the biggest challenges of our time.

Researchers, if you need help with data sharing, please contact us


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