The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) is one of the leading global health bodies to have committed to sharing data and results relevant to the current Zika crisis as rapidly and openly as possible.

The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus that was first identified in Uganda in 1947. Last year Brazil made headlines when the South American country experienced large outbreaks of the disease, leading to national health authorities reporting potential neurological and auto-immune complications associated with the Zika virus. The recent increase in Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) patients as well as an increase in babies born with microcephaly in northeast Brazil is believed to be linked to the virus.

While there are now an estimated 1.5 million cases of Zika infections across Latin America, 80% of those who are infected have no symptoms, which usually consist of a mild fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise or headache. It’s therefore necessary for more research to be carried out to better understand the Zika virus and its effect on unborn babies.

SAMRAC has joined the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Médecins Sans Frontières, the US National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Wellcome Trust, along with leading academic journals that include Nature, Science and the New England Journal of Medicine, in signing a joint declaration to share Zika related data. A full list of the organisations who have signed the declaration can be found here. It is hoped that other bodies will come on board in the coming weeks.

The statement is intended to ensure that any information that might have value in combatting the Zika outbreak is made available to the international community, free of charge, as soon as is feasibly possible. Journal signatories provide assurance that doing so will not preclude researchers from subsequently publishing papers in their titles.

The data sharing declaration follows a consensus statement arising from a WHO consultation in September 2015, in which leading international stakeholders from multiple sectors affirmed that timely and transparent pre-publication sharing of data and results during public health emergencies must become the global norm.

“Research is an essential part of the response to any global health emergency. This is particularly true for Zika, where so much is still unknown about the virus, how it is spread and the possible link with microcephaly,” said Director of the Wellcome Trust and a signatory of the statement, Dr Jeremy Farrar.

“It’s critical that as results become available they are shared rapidly in a way that is equitable, ethical and transparent. This will ensure that the knowledge gained is turned quickly into health interventions that can have an impact on the epidemic. It’s extremely heartening to see so many leading international organisations united in this unprecedented commitment to open science, reinforcing the decision by  the WHO to declare Zika a Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” concluded Dr Farrar.

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