The guide was developed with partners from across the global health field and aims to provide support for pushing the established norms for data sharing towards a model where data are shared as openly as is possible and appropriate.

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Public health is a discipline encompassing a broad range of topics, but one constant is the need for timely access to high-quality information in order to formulate appropriate action. In an increasingly globalized world, this implies sharing data that is often sensitive across international borders. Averting or mitigating the impact of global health crises relies on this process taking place.

Successful public health data sharing during the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 contributed to preventing the disease from becoming established. It also facilitated a robust and timely response to the 2009 influenza A (H1N1) pandemic. Conversely, purposefully withholding public health data is part of the reason why more than two years after the identification of the novel Middle East Respiratory (MERS) coronavirus, the source and origin of the virus remain unknown. 

In May 2016, experts involved in discussions at Chatham House issued a call for all public health surveillance data to be shared as necessary to improve and protect public health.

The Centre on Global Health Security, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, organized a series of roundtables focused on finding key solutions to barriers in public health data sharing. These roundtables provided robust examples and personal experiences on how to create the right environment for sharing data and achieve good practice, addressing both the policy and technical aspects of data sharing.