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Global Health Centre

Understanding the norms and practices of pathogen-sharing to improve global health security

  • Lead Research Team: Dr Suerie Moon, Adjunct Professor Gian Luca Burci
  • Co-researchers: Anthony Rizk
  • Principal Members: Dr Sylvie Briand, Ms Anne Huvos, Professor Stephanie Dagron, Professor Rebecca Katz, Dr Mosoka Fallah, Dr Jorge Bermudez
  • Project owner:  The Global Health Centre at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva
  • Project status: Ongoing until end of November 2020
  • Key Words: global health governance, pathogen access and benefit sharing, health security, international law, influenza, outbreaks, pandemics, access to medicines, sample-sharing, Nagoya Protocol, Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework

Infectious disease outbreaks pose a serious threat, one that is exacerbated by intensified trade, travel and migration, closer interaction between humans, domesticated and wild animals, and the declining efficacy of antimicrobial medicines. To a large extent, controlling outbreaks depends on rapid pathogen-sharing between countries and a fair sharing of the benefits deriving from the technologies (drugs, diagnostics, vaccines) produced from pathogens. The Ebola crisis proved how critical pathogen sharing is to develop technologies and measures for controlling outbreaks and thus, how beneficial sharing can be for the countries directly concerned as well as for global health. However, the formal multilateral framework governing pathogen- and benefit-sharing is complex, incomplete, and under strain.

This project aims to gain an empirical understanding of the formal and informal norms governing pathogen- and benefit-sharing in order to advance the policy debate on how to manage outbreaks. As such, this research project asks: How can pathogen- and benefit-sharing practices be measured, described and meaningfully assessed? How do formal and informal norms of collaboration and sharing in scientific practice facilitate or impede rapid pathogen- or benefit-sharing? What drives decisions to share (or not) pathogens and related benefits? What global governance tools and instruments can improve pathogen- and benefit-sharing practices to ensure health security for all?

We use both quantitative and qualitative methodologies to answer these questions. Key expert interviews and document review of memoranda of understanding, material transfer agreements, organizational policies, and other contracts inform us on existing formal and informal norms in pathogen- and benefit-sharing. We will also use publicly available quantitative data and shipping records on influenza to develop metrics on pathogen- and benefit-sharing practices and explore these issues in-depth through two case studies, one on Ebola in Liberia and another on Zika in Brazil. Based on the data collected, the project will develop proposals for global governance tools and instruments to strengthen pathogen and benefit-sharing, to be discussed with a wide-range of stakeholders.

Key collaborators include the World Health Organization, the National Public Health Institute of Liberia the National School of Public Health at Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz), Brazil, the Faculty of Law and the Global Studies Institute at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University, USA.


The project is funded by the Swiss Network for International Studies (SNIS).