March 29, 2006 - ASM Sends Letter to the WHO Concerning Genomic Data

LEE Jong-wook, M.D.
World Health Organization
Avenue Appia 20
1211 Geneva 27

Dear Dr. Lee:

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM), the largest single life science Society with over 42, 000 members worldwide, supports the posting of gene sequences of avian influenza viruses in a public database, instead of a closed password-protected system sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO). Openness in the posting of gene sequences protects the fundamental principles of science conducted in the best interests of humanity and the world. Having data on avian influenza isolates openly available to the scientific community will speed the development of antivirals and vaccines against a potentially devastating problem for human and animal health. It is critical that WHO not compromise on fundamental principles of transparency for reasons that are not substantive.

The principle of transparency in science for the public good reaches far beyond one of public databases for genetic sequences. It encompasses information on human health at many levels, including information on diseases as well as the pathogens. The ASM encourages WHO to be open in the dissemination of scientific information and data that relate to human health. The best defense against infectious diseases is information, in a form that can be used by scientists and by the pubic health community to guide rational and effective actions to improve human health and safety. Barriers to the flow of information between scientists are likely to impede progress against infectious diseases. It is critically important to foster and encourage international cooperation and collaboration between scientists on research and to increase transparency, which will contribute to a better understanding of infectious disease problems worldwide.

Stanley Maloy, Ph.D., President, ASM
Ruth L. Berkelman, M.D., Chair, Public and Scientific Affairs Board