Trade, foreign policy, diplomacy and health

5. Genomics Knowledge

Halla Thorsteinsdottir, Abdallah S Daar, Richard D Smith, Peter A Singer

3. Public engagement and consensus building

  • Global public engagement ensures voices of all nations, cultures and races are heard
  • Education on genomics essential
  • Public engagement will pave way for consensus building on genomics regulation
  • An ‘international commission on genomics and global health’ is suggested

Global public engagement will ensure that the voices of inhabitants across the range of nations, cultures and races are heard. Education of the general public on genomics risks and benefits, and their involvement in planning and carrying out genomics, should therefore be encouraged. Public engagement will also pave the way for the next step required in the development of genomics: consensus building by stakeholders, including government, industry, academics, NGOs, and the public. Although this is likely to be a difficult exercise, in light of the different interests of these multiple stakeholders it is essential for stakeholders to focus on the common interest of eliminating health inequity, providing strategic direction, and considering how genomics may best be regulated.

However, there is no single accepted method for establishing this. For example, 'research foresight' can be a part of consensus building, where actors focus on what type of research they would like to see over a given period, and what action steps are required in order to realise their vision. This involves communication about different needs and visions, consensus making and a commitment to a common plan. Revising international DNA patenting is an example of a task that would benefit greatly from global consensus making. At present this debate is highly polarised, and there is a call for developing a mutually acceptable balance between private incentives for innovators and the public interest of maximising access to the fruits of innovation. An 'international commission on genomics and global health' might also be a constructive platform for consensus building to ensure that the benefits of genomics are shared by everyone, including those in developing countries.