Sovereignty, sanctions, and data sharing under international law

Rourke, Michelle and Eccleston-Turner, Mark and Switzer, Stephanie (2022) Sovereignty, sanctions, and data sharing under international law. Science, 375 (6582). pp. 724-726. ISSN 0036-8075 (

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In September 2021, after inaugurating the Berlin-based World Health Organization (WHO) Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence, German Health Minister Jens Spahn indicated that sanctions might be an appropriate tool to deal with WHO member states that do not cooperate on data sharing during disease outbreaks. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, affirmed this, stating that "exploring the [idea of ] sanctions may be important" in cases where collaboration fails. Such comments indicate that the WHO Hub has been designed without much consideration of data sovereignty and "access and benefit sharing" (ABS) debates occurring across multiple United Nations (UN) bodies, including the WHO. Threats of sanctions do little to promote the ideals of equity and solidarity often touted as foundational to global health governance. They entrench the idea that pathogen samples and associated data are "bargaining chips" rather than vital inputs to public health research and pandemic response.