Secondary analysis and participation of those at the data source

Lancet Global Health, 6:9
11 Aug 2018
Merson L, Guérin PJ, Barnes K, Ntoumi F, Gaye O

Your Editorial Closing the door on parachutes and parasites (June 2018)1 offers poignant insight on key issues in authorship of manuscripts resulting from secondary data analysis. As global health researchers who believe in the ethical and scientific imperative to maximise health gains from existing data, we strongly support the need to get this right. The discourse is not only important to develop sound publication practice, but also to promote equity, effectiveness, and sustainability of global health research collaboration. We agree that policy on academic authorship must evolve to avoid undermining these objectives.

As researchers focused on the design and operationalisation of a platform that facilitates the pooling, curation, and analysis of data relating to neglected, poverty-related diseases and emerging infections, we have invested in the collaborative development of policy that promotes the participation and recognition of the scientists and institutions who generate primary data. Building on a decade of experience in the WorldWide Antimalarial Resistance Network (WWARN), the Infectious Diseases Data Observatory (IDDO) has successfully implemented a policy whereby researchers who contribute data to a collaborative platform are invited to participate in the secondary analysis and the development of the resulting manuscript, with appropriate authorship.

The rationale for this approach extends beyond the need to assure that data are interpreted accurately. In our experience, researchers on the front line of data collection steer the design of secondary research towards analyses that are relevant to the context where data are collected and maximise its potential to improve health. Implementation of an inclusive approach to data reuse reduced concerns that acted as barriers in the initial phase of the WWARN and IDDO platform. When researchers holding datasets gained confidence in the quality and purpose of secondary analysis, they were more inclined to make data accessible.

Collaborative research with representative participation and recognition of all contributors should be the default in global health collaboration. Our experience shows that inviting the researchers responsible for data collection to participate in secondary analysis is the most effective way to ensure impactful, ethical, and equitable data sharing. Failing to involve those who collect primary data misses a valuable opportunity for two-way capacity building and for maximising the rapid application of results to inform policy in the regions of data source.

While we do not suggest that manuscripts without authors from each country of data origin are rejected on this basis, we encourage journals to share the responsibility of promoting equity in global health research. As highlighted in, for example, the Global Code of Conduct for Research in Resource-Poor Settings, the consultation and participation of researchers who collect primary data should be defined as best practice, and efforts to meet this standard should be rewarded.

All authors are affiliated with IDDO and WWARN. We declare no competing interests.