Open-access neglected diseases database

A group of European and African researchers have published a paper in PloS announcing the development of a potentially important database for mapping neglected tropical diseases. While the idea is pretty simple — to integrate various survey-based studies of infection into a single geo-referenced database — the output is potentially powerful, providing public health officials better maps of disease outbreaks. With scarce resources, accurate targeting of public health efforts for such diseases is critical.

This map, generated from the current version of the database, depicts schistosomiasis hotspots:

This is an open-access initiative — and the authors provide some interesting reflections concerning the limitations and challenges of open -access, some of which I paste here:

Despite the benefits of free and public data repositories, data sharing is a challenge. Data owners may hesitate to provide their data, especially when they have not yet been published. However, confidential data can be masked through a special database feature as explained in the Methods section. As more and more data are included into the GNTD database, the current lack in the geographical extent of location-specific survey data across countries and regions will become less critical. Undoubtedly, a host of valuable information exists within countries, in the form of unpublished local archived sources. Efforts are ongoing to access this information with the help of our in-country scientific partners in ministries of health and research institutions by visiting the countries of interest to strengthen and further expand our global network of collaborators. Nevertheless, it is likely that there will remain significant areas with scarce data because no surveys have been conducted or data are not readily accessible or have been lost in the face of civil war, political unrest, or inappropriate archiving procedures. Such geographical lacks of survey data might be only known to local experts while the international community might not be aware.

— These are fair and good points that need to be kept in mind as various open-access data initiatives across a range of sectors promise to make inroads on various aspects of African development.

(Credit: reported on this article/database.)