Below is a letter from Deputy Director Dr Siouxsie Wiles to the Ministry of Health requesting the Ministry’s assistance in using infectious disease data from the Public Health Surveillance website coordinated by the The Institute of Environmental Science and Research Ltd (ESR). The Ministry of Health has responded saying they are looking into the matter.
Dear [Ministry of Health officials]
My name is Siouxsie Wiles and I’m a microbiologist and Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland. This year I am involved in organising an online campaign called InfectedNZ, to start a national data-driven conversation about infectious diseases. The campaign will run during World Antibiotic Awareness week (November 14-20). The idea is to start thinking about infectious diseases from different perspectives, and to bring together diverse people to look at the available data and write about the situation. The campaign is being run by Te Pūnaha Matatini, a Centre of Research Excellence, and Figure.NZ, a non-profit devoted to getting people to use data about New Zealand. We want to show Aotearoa New Zealand that infectious diseases are a current and future issue with health, social, economic, and environmental impacts.
The importance of our collaboration with Figure.NZ is that they pull together New Zealand’s public sector, private sector and academic data in one place and make it easy for people to use in simple graphical form for free through their website. All data is presented in charts that are designed to be compared easily with each other and constructed with as little bias as possible. Figure.NZ only use data that has a creative commons licence that allows them to publish the data on their site – this is usually the CC BY 3.0 license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/nz/.
When searching for relevant data on infectious diseases in NZ, I found lots of data presented online on the ESR website (https://surv.esr.cri.nz/), produced under contract with the Ministry of Health. I was particularly interested in obtaining the data to help provide easy to understand charts for experts to use during our campaign. Unfortunately, the current licence allows personal use of the data but not for us to publish on Figure.NZ to help make it easier for people to find and visualise. Instead, there is a disclaimer that instructs users to contact ESR for other uses, such as that envisioned by this campaign (http://www.esr.cri.nz/footer/disclaimer-and-copyright/). We have tried this but the answer was no.
I would like to know what the Ministry of Health’s position is on improving access to publicly available data, like that on the ESR website, for uses like our campaign. We have no interest in manipulating this data other than to standardise the spreadsheets and to present simple visualisations from them. We think that providing usable, clear, digestible and unbiased information will help New Zealanders make better decisions, and will lead to better outcomes for all of us. I am disappointed that important public data like that published online by ESR is essentially out of bounds.
I look forward to your response.