Archive for the ‘public health’ Category

GIS Applications in Epidemiology

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

Thanks, JZ for the post

Applications of GIS aren’t new to epidemiology. Dating back to 1854, during a cholera outbreak in London’s Soho district, Dr. John Snow plotted the location of every individual case on a map and determined that they were distributed in a certain pattern that was linked to a contaminated water pump used by the local citizens. Now GIScience is being used to used to track the spatial distribution of all sorts of diseases.

H1N1 is a current epidemiological problem. Although H1N1 has been tracked since the outbreak, a lack of effective analysis tools (and countermeasures, of course) meant that the flu spread throughout the world within a few months. According to the latest update from the WHO, over 11,516 have died in the pandemic.

ESRI’s GIS is being used to track H1N1. According to ESRI’s own whitepaper, ‘GIS and Pandemic Influenza Planning and Response’, ESRI believes that geographic accuracy is essential in any infectious disease outbreak, and GIS applications can be critical in assessing risks, evaluating threats, tracking outbreaks, and ensuring the focused allocation of resources (e.g., vaccines and antivirals).

GISs tend to be rather static in their ability to model time. What is especially important is to be able to dynamically run a geospatial model of the outbreak. According to a recent article in Nature, agent-based modeling (ABM) can be used in modeling the disease’s possible spread, and designing policies for its mitigation. The ABM is basically an artificial society. Every person is represented by an autonomous software agent. Agents interact with each other; the computer tracks the agents’ health status as they interact in the virtual social network. Unlike classical epidemic modeling which based on differential equations, the ABM can simulate the complexity of social network. ABMs can be used to answer questions like, ‘What if a significant number of people refuse the H1N1 vaccine out of fear?’ ‘What is the best way to allocate the limited supplies of vaccines?’ or ‘How effective are school closures?’

A U.S. scale ABM (containing 300 million agents) can be run in approximately 10 minutes and can present the results on a map-based interface. Thus GIS and ABMs can provide the decision-makers a quick feedback on how their interventions work. As H1N1 moves through time and space and other possible pandemic influenza emerge in the future, GIS and ABM will play important roles in improving the efficiency of health agencies.

Emergent Diseases and Urbanized Environments

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

Prof. Lea Berrang Ford’s seminar at the Institute for Health and Social Policy looked at the effects of climate change, present and predicted, on human health, in particular on the emergence of infectious diseases. Prof. Berrang Ford began her seminar by discussing McMichael’s four major historical transitions in human population dispersal which led to periods of high rates of emergence of new diseases. I found this to be a particularly interesting way to frame the problem of emergence diseases, because it places them firmly within the context of the environment. Often we only think about infectious diseases after their emergence, when our concerns are regarding cure and slowing of spread within a population. We forget the important relationship these diseases have with the environment, especially in their original emergence. The first of these historical phases was during the advent of local agrarian ecology, which coincided with a settling phase, leading to a concentration of people, their animals and their wastes. The second phase was characterized by an increase in multiregional overland trade and warfare (e.g., interactions between the ancient Greek and Roman empires). The third coincided with European transcontinental travel and colonial exploitation. McMichael hypothesizes that we are now into the fourth phase, which is characterized by air travel. This has changed the dynamics of the spread of disease, from continuous overland spread to “hopping” between cities, which act as “hubs” for further spread. This is due to an increase in human travel, but also in animal travel and “globalization” of food production. The importance of the movement of animals is of particular importance when we consider that more than 50% of emergent infectious diseases are zoonoses (i.e. diseases originating in domestic animals and wildlife).

This year marked a significant global demographic shift: for the first time more people are living in cities than in rural areas. From what we know about the environmental impacts of cities (e.g., they are heat islands, they are large concentrated sources of waste, and they require the burning of large amounts of fossil fuels to bring in sufficient supplies, etc.), this should already signal a necessary shift in how cities are planned and managed. From the perspective of emergent infectious diseases, we should be even more concerned. High density centres, paired with high travel between these centres, sets up super-highways along which diseases can spread. Paradoxically, it seems that now more than ever, when more and more people are living “away from nature,” we need to consider the place of cities within the environment when we are planning them.

microbe diversity

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

GIS has been an integral part of epidemiological research for more than a decade and its roles in this particular field of research have been diverse: the mapping of disease incidence and prevalence, modeling of patterns of spread, correlation of morbidity and mortality to specific geographical, climatic or political zones. It has often also been used in projection modeling – for example to attempt to estimate the changes in disease vector range in response to climate change. McGill’s own Dr. Lea Berrang Ford’s work is a prime example of the modern applications of GIS in public health science.

Another field where GIS has penetrated quite rapidly was that of biodiversity and conservation. Neither of these disciplinary partnerships are particularly surprising, considering the strong spatial component of both areas of research.
Never the less, it is always possible to count on GIS to surprise us with its potential to drastically change the direction of a long-lived scientific debate, methodology or paradigm. As I [MP] was browsing through New Scientist during one of those procrastination moments typical of undergraduate midterm period, I stumbled upon an article that did just that. It was about microbial diversity. Whenever was microbial diversity a subject for debate? Oh, only since the very beginnings of evolutionary science. The problem is an interesting one: considering the thousands of species that can be found in a mere 30g of soil (usually, this is defined by bacteria that differ in more than 30% of their genome), the diversity of microbial life on earth must be staggering. It is also incalculable – one cannot sample all bacteria found in soil. At best, we can only extrapolate. When biologists do, they tend to place their estimates of bacterial diversity to about 1011 species worldwide. That’s 1011 different types of organisms, fulfilling myriads of different functional roles, living in myriads of different environments. How do we study their response to human processes like agriculture, or their response to phenomena like climate change? How do we integrate them in disease spread models? How do we know when a keystone organism has gone extinct?

David Wilkinson attempted to answer (more…)

Canada sucks when it comes to the digital innovations

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

h/t to gizmo for pointing this out to me. For a mild-mannered broadcaster, one of their blogs is blunt and absolutely correct.

Here are three things that suck about being Canadian right now:

  1. Last week the CRTC sided with Bell against a group of small Internet Service Providers who want to offer their customers unthrottled connections where what they download is their own business and not subject to interference.
  2. In last week’s throne speech the Conservative government renewed their intention to “modernize” Canadian [Crown] copyright law. Their effort to do so last session was Bill C-61, a woefully unbalanced and retrograde piece of legislation that led to the greatest citizen backlash to any proposed bill in recent memory. Yet there has been no indication from new Industry Minister Tony Clement that a much-needed public consultation will take place. The best he has offered is the possibility of a “slightly different” version of the bill.
  3. Twitter has just announced that they are killing outbound SMS messaging in Canada due to exorbitant and constant rate hikes from Canadian cell providers (former Industry Minister Jim Prentice vowed to get tough on SMS price gouging, then backpeddled). Cell phone rates in Canada are among the highest in the world, and the result is that mobile penetration is pathetically low and that emerging new cultural platforms like Twitter are being hobbled.

These decisions absolutely blow my mind. In this post, I’ll address the implications for #1. Our weakling telephone companies are able to restrict trade in a massive way, squeezing out third party purchasers of broadband. So much for the mom-and-pop ISP. The telecoms can use existing deficiencies in fibre optics as an excuse to packet-shape. But they’ve eliminated the incentive to ever increase the transmission pipes. More importantly, the CRTC action has enormous free speech implications because Bell/Sympatico can sloooow down any criticism of its practices. Additionally, telecoms essentially can eliminate innovations in P2P. Sure the overwhelming use of P2P always will be illegal activities. However, P2P is also becoming a standard for sharing large and legitimate datasets. Climate change or bioinformatics information are good candidates for P2P. Has the Canadian federal government been deaf to the whole net neutrality debate?

GIS: Helping People with Dementia-Related Disorders

Monday, December 8th, 2008

Thanks, MT, Intro to GIS, for an interesting post.

A joint Israel-Germany research is planned on the subject of the well-being of elderly people with dementia-related problems. Specifically, it will look at the challenges of out-of-home mobility, as it is not uncommon to find people with disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease to go missing, or be found injured or dead. The project’s stated aim is to “address the measurement of mobility in Alzheimer’s disease and related cognitive disorders in an innovative way, by taking advantage of advanced tracking technologies,” such as GIS and GPS. Traditionally, out-of-home mobility of individuals with dementia-related disorders is measured by “observational approaches, activity monitoring, or behavioural checklists, “and is done by caregivers or institutional staff. This alternate approach using tracking technology would help to better understand the mobility patterns of these individuals; the research wants to develop a typology of out-of-home behaviour. Such information would be helpful for ITS (Intelligent Transportation Systems), which aims to assist people with dementia or disabilities on public transportation (RITA). In addition, the research states its intention to use statistical analysis to discover the differences in mobility patterns based on “socio-cultural, personality-related [and] environmental variables.” Basically they will attempt to tie together non-spatial, socio-psychological attribute data with spatial, mobility-pattern data to discover mobility patterns. In this way it is hoped that individuals afflicted with such diseases as Alzheimer’s could have an enhanced quality of life.

The research recognizes as well this approach’s potential as a diagnostic tool; if unique patterns are discovered, it could help identify dementia disorders in previously-undiagnosed individuals.

Interestingly, they want to also consider the ethical aspect of such an approach to helping people with dementia. The patients’ and caregivers’ quality of life of can be seriously impacted by the tracking technology.

In holding with the GIS tradition, this research is wholly interdisciplinary, with researchers from the Geography, Social Work, Gerontology, Psychology, and Medical fields.

Sources

      1. Sentra. The Use of Advanced Tracking Technologies for the Analysis of Mobility in Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Cognitive Disorders http://atar.mscc.huji.ac.il/~geo/sentra/index.html
      2. RITA, The Research and Innovative Technology Administration. http://www.its.dot.gov/msaa/msaa2/chapter3.htm
      3. Noam Shoval, Gail K Auslander, Tim Freytag, Ruth Landau, Frank Oswald, Ulrich Seidl, Hans-Werner Wahl, Shirli Werner, and Jeremia Heinik. 2008. “The Use of Advanced Tracking Technologies for the Analysis of Mobility in Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Cognitive Disorders” BMC Geriatrics http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=2291469

GIS and SARS

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

From JM, Intro to GIS

SARS stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome. It is a disease that originated in Southern China and has spread quickly throughout the world. Outbreaks included countries such as Taiwan, Singapore, Canada, Germany, France, Kuwait, Romania and Spain. This virus is incurable with antibiotics, as they have no effect on the disease; therefore, many deaths occurred without any possible treatment. A vaccine was later found with a 67 percent chance of the patient developing a special type of antibodies against this disease. The symptoms include coughing, fever and shortness in breath. This deadly viral disease started in November 2002 as statistics show that 8,096 people were infected and 774 deaths.

Looking at this tragic incident, GIS was used by the Chinese government and the World Health Organization. People and citizens had questions such as “where were infected cases located?” or “which areas or buildings were free of the disease.” To answer these questions, China used ESRI’s ArcIMS to provide the most up to date data of the spatial distribution of the disease. Additionally “updates [from] the China Center for Disease Control” were geocoded and posted online so they could be analysed by various agencies and individuals. Like John Snow’s Cholera map, GIS users mapped every single SARS incident that occurred, examined the spatial patterns, tried to correlate them with other factors, and attempted to understand why the viral disease was occurring more frequently in some places as opposed to others. Using GIS, they were able to see both the rate and where it spreading throughout the world. GIS appears to offer a powerful tool to help people organize data and find a solution to a problem that can help save many lives.

Links
The first website gives example and demonstrates how GIS is used to track infectious diseases. These other links provide statistics and graphs about SARS.

Tracking a New Player in the Indoor-Positioning Industry

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

Comic books and geospatial technologies. The link has been revealed! (Unless it was all a dream.) Thanks, OF, Intro to GIS.

Remember the scene in the Dark Knight, when the police were evacuating all the hospitals in Gotham City because the Joker threatened to blow one of them up?

Well, perhaps what they really needed was not some dark, mysterious caped hero, but in fact Sonitor Technologies. Sonitor is one of the new entrants into the rapidly growing indoor-positioning industry. While most indoor-positioning technologies use either infrared or Wi-Fi electronics to quickly and accurately track the movement people and objects in an indoor environment, Sonitor has upped the ante: it has introduced the use of ultrasound tracking systems.

How does this all work? Well, each and every person and object that needs to be tracked has a small ID tag attached to it. The ID tag constantly emits a unique ultrasound wave that is picked up by receivers that are located in each room of the building. These receivers then send all of this information to a central computer, which displays the movement of the tracked people and objects. All of this is, of course, in real-time. Sonitor claims that because it uses ultrasound waves, it can locate objects down to the centimeter in any given room. Clearly, this is a lot more accurate than most GPS devices. Then again, that’s to be expected when we’re working with the size of a building rather than a country.

Right now, Sonitor is selling this technology mainly to hospitals, and it is easy to understand how valuable real-time tracking would be. Imagine urgently needing an extra hospital bed, or having to know exactly where a given patient is, or having to evacuate an entire city’s worth of hospital patients and you’ll see why. Then think of the new super-hospitals being built here in Montreal, and it seems odd that no one had thought of this earlier.

It is important to note how powerful this technology is, not only right now, but will be in the future. GIS can be used for a whole range of commercial and even malevolent purposes, and indoor-tracking is certainly part of this.

Hopefully, all the villains won’t be as evil as the Joker ( :-) )

Global disease alert map

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

h/t AT, Intro GIS

Google.org’s investment of “More than $14Million for genetic and digital detection” is the title of a blog post that I recently came across. Under a program called Predict and Prevent, Google is working with Healthmap.org and Promed-mail.org to tract the outbreak of infectious diseases across the world through digital and genetic approaches.

These three organizations work together to use GIS to display geospatial data on global disease alert maps. Each pushpin on the map is related to a dialogue box which gives you the latest epidemic/infectious disease outbreak in a country. For example, by clicking on a pushpin located in Sudan, a dialogue box will give you a link to promed-mail, which will give you the updates on how many patients died from Cholera, diarrhea, and dysentery diseases on a given date and given location in Sudan.

Through its maps, Google.org wants to distribute knowledge about infectious diseases. This in turn empower communities and individuals, because they have more rapid access to the data that can help reduce to time of response when dealing with a health crisis. Indeed, by funding partners to collect geospatial data through digital detection, Predict and Prevent can help detect early indicators of a certain disease, in order to prevent that it become a local, regional and global epidemic.

John Snow revisited

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

From another student in the Intro to GIS course.

Isn’t it strange how everything seems to go full circle? Arguably John Snow’s work using maps to figure out the source of the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak in London was the birth of using spatial analysis/maps for anything but figuring out where you are going. Actually, for much of history, maps weren’t even used for navigation by Europeans, the focus only shifting from the sky to the earth in the 1500’s (there is an interesting podcast on this, as well as some pretty obscure, but nonetheless highly interesting alternative uses for the mapping process). But despite this late start to mapping, humans have come incredibly far incredibly rapidly: from John Snow collecting cholera data by going door to door, and mapping by hand, to using Google Earth to predict where an existing outbreak might spread next, and now to predicting outbreaks before they even begin.

Rita Colwell and colleagues at the University of Maryland are working on using geospatial data from satellites to predict cholera outbreaks, even before they occur. This is based on preexisting satellite data on the temperature, height, and chlorophyll concentrations of seawater. The hope that soon satellites will also collect salinity and oxygen saturation, among other variables, which may help improve the model. It is known that as waters warm, phytoplankton flourish, and this is associated with increased outbreaks of cholera. But just how great of a correlation, and how predictions could be bettered, is where GIS comes into play. Colwell correlated the satellite data to cholera case statistics, with the hope of developing a model strong enough to predict up to six weeks of the future.

But as advanced as we may have become, in collecting and projecting data, we still face many of the same problems as John Snow did all those years ago. Back in the days of John Snow, there was no agency collecting outbreak locations, let alone the Internet on which to post them. But despite the fact that we are lucky enough to have such services available to us via the Internet, even if not physically going door to door, researchers have to write letters and emails in order to track down people. And of course there is the always the problem of data integrity: how much can we trust the data from a government disease agency? At least John Snow was collecting the data himself, and thus could trust it as much as he could trust humans to answer faithfully. So it is quite odd how both one of the earliest and one of the latest applications of GIS involves mapping cholera outbreaks, one looking backwards, one looking forwards, and yet we face many of the same problems.

It’s the circle of GIS life.

Health and climate change

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

I attempted Dr Ebi presentation; “Healthy People 2100: Health Risks of Climate Change” on September 11th. As it was mention by supernova in a previous comment, I think the Dr. Ebi wanted to warn us about the possible impacts of not acting nor getting prepared to face climate change. We, as a society, are often acting like climate change impacts are something far away, as we were not going to deal with it during our lifetime. However, according to Tong (2008) 150 000 deaths, yearly, could already be possibly linked to climate changes. Isn’t it a proof that something has to be done ?

I do think it is far time that we stop debating about numbers (i.e. what will be the exact temperature rise, in how many years …) and that we start acting. The situation makes me think of those houses that are way to close to a river. Rivers overflow ; if it is not this year, it may be next year or in ten years, but it will overflow ! So why would you complain when there is water in your basement ? It had to happen ! It is the same thing about climate change ; we know it is going to happen, even though we are not quite sure of the exact scale of consequences. But it does not mean that we should wait to see what happens, and then try to deal with it. It is too late to think about how to protect old people health when a heatwave has already started, it is too late to think about an evacuation plan when the hurricane is there above our heads.

While concluding the seminar, Dr.Ebi mentioned that adaptation should be considered as important as mitigation. Policy makers have to think about all possible ways to reduce GHG emissions, but they also have to get prepare to face the future.

Healthy People 2100: Health Risks of Climate Change

Monday, September 15th, 2008

I attended Dr. Kristie Ebi’s seminar “Healthy People 2100: Health Risks of Climate Change” on Thursday, 11.09.2008. To me it was an impressive presentation and I’ll never forget some of the images she included, particularly the one showing the trucks used to deposit the victims of the 1995 Chicago heat wave. In the coming years we ought to expect even more extreme weather events, including severe droughts, heat waves, floods, hurricanes, the rising of sea water levels. The consequences on health would most certainly be a rise in the number of cases of malnutrition, diarrhea, infectious diseases – including those transmitted by vectors.

One of the most important points Dr. Ebi made was that the countries responsible for the global warming are not the ones suffering the worst consequences. She projected a map of the world which proportionately showed which areas are likely to suffer the most drastic consequences. The African continent and south-estern Asia were the areas that stood out by far. North America, one of the biggest source of greenhouse gas emmisions, was projected to suffer the least. This goes out to show a potential reason why it’s so hard to convince decision makers to take action: they don’t see poverty and illness first-hand. And they think that they can avoid being affected by the consequences of global warming. It is certainly much more financially profitable to go on a “business as usual” path than to change your ways, start thinking of the consequences and start taking action toward mitigation and sustainability.  Even the few actions that are being taken are done without thinking of the human health consequences, without asking for advice from the authorities in the field – the example of changing the course of a river in China.

In conclusion, Dr Ebi’s presentation was a picture of the present situation and a projection of what to expect in the future. If I were to criticize it, I’d say that knowing the topic of this presentation I expected it to be more focused on the health related issues and potential solutions for the future.

Health risks of climate change

Friday, September 12th, 2008

On Thursday the 11th of September at 3:30, in the Leacock building of McGill university, I attended a seminar on ” Health risks of climate change ” given by Dr. Kristie Ebi.

She drew a rather critical portrait of the earth situation. In her opinion, even if we stopped emitting greenhouses gases, we still could have 50 years of climates rising to come. Climate changes have many impacts on human health. One particular example she gave was the increasing number of catastrophes such as hurricanes (e.g., Katrina) and major heat waves (like the one that hit Europe in August). The problem also resides in the fact that the cities are not prepared to face such treats. During the major heatwave that hit Chicago, they stored the affected person in refrigerator vans because they had no where to put such a large amount of people. However, she explained that the required changes will not be easy to accomplish. For example, in prevision of sea level rise and future hurricanes, some flood lines have to be moved. This will not please the entrepreneurs nor the owner of the fields who suddenly would find themselves in a flooding zones. Insurance policies will increase.

An another important issue raised in this seminar was the fact the human health is never included in the planing for future development. As a matter of fact, rising temperature affect humans, animals but also pathogens. Epidemics of samonela, malaria, diarrhea, malnutrition and other wonderful infectious vectors will spread further with increased temperature. Furthermore, some solutions to the problem may enable those parasites to access new areas. For example, a plan in China will have a river from the south redirected toward a river in the north. The southern river is contaminated with a pathogen that is currently unable to reach the northern part of the country. For now, it is impossible for the pathogen to move because of the low temperature but with the climate change, it will have access and millions of new people will be subject to infection.

To conclude, it is crucial that the countries prepare for those catastrophes (it was done for the last el nino and the result were impressive) and health should considered when doing so.

sensing hand sanitizing

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

A researcher affiliated with the Toronto Rehabilitation Centre has devised a system to remind health care workers to sanitize their hands before they greet the next patient.

The hand hygiene device consists of three parts: a sensor positioned at the back of the healthcare worker’s neck and infrared lights above the patient’s bed that detect the sensor. A great innovation in own regard is an alcohol gel dispenser that attaches directly to the healthcare worker’s waistband.

A health-care worker wears the sensor and a beep is triggered when the person approaches a patient’s bed, reminding them to use the sanitizing gel. If the health-care worker has already done so, the beep will not sound.

The system also records the time of entry and exit from each patient area and the number of times hands are disinfected. This data can be downloaded into a computer so individual staff members can check their overall hand hygiene and compare it anonymously against their peers.

Love the anonymous part. Of course, it isn’t anonymous. The current interface may be designed to suppress the worker’s id but it doesn’t have to. However, it might be advantageous to know who isn’t complying with the hand sanitizing. And the lead researcher, Geoff Fernie, makes a good point that it’s simply hard to wash your hands 150 times(!) a day. (How health care workers combat chapped skin, is beyond me.)

bike couriers as sensors

Saturday, March 1st, 2008

Bike couriers as human sensors to track air pollution:

Cellphones used by bicycle couriers are monitoring air pollution in Cambridge, UK, and beaming the data back to a research lab.

The technique is made possible by small wireless pollution sensors and custom software that allows the phones to report levels of air pollutants wherever they happen to be around town.

The information can be mapped so that it can be viewed by the general public (and other bike messengers, who are on the front line of this exposure).

What is interesting is the multiplicity of possible applications for these mobile sensors (e.g., the use for noise sensing). I look forward to their discussion of interpolation techniques to maximizes this non-randomized data input.

GIS as an Aid to the Urgences-Sante in Montreal

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

(Written by Intro to GIS student, L. M.)

Montreal is home to 1,620,693 million people and is ranked as the 2nd largest city in Canada. The city has countless events, exquisite restaurants, educational museums and highly regarded schools for its massive population. However a quick emergency response time is not one of them.

Currently the average emergency response time for an ambulance in the City of Montreal is nine minutes and 27 seconds. This number is highly dependent on the traffic and the time of day at which the ambulance is dispatched. Once we get into the suburbs of Montreal, that time can fluctuate a lot more to upwards of almost fifteen minutes.

According to CTV News, “Quebec’s health minister says Urgences-Sante, which serves both Montreal and Laval, needs to organize itself better, in order to reduce its response time.”

How can this be accomplished? The Grand Prairie Region in Alberta has found an answer in GIS.

For years GIS has been used as an aid to help firefighters and emergency response teams fight bush and forest fires. GIS and GPS tools are now being implemented in upstate New York to improve the emergency response time of their medical services. So why not try applying these new technologies to Montreal?

It could start simple, in the way that the Grand Prairies did, by creating hardcopy GIS maps for the emergency works to carry when they are in unknown areas of the city as well as in areas where GPS does not function well (e.g., in urban canyons). The next step would be to start creating categories of GIS-generated maps that illustrate dense traffic areas throughout the day. This way a clear route could be established for emergency crews to always find the fastest way to their destination.

We have seen GIS used in many measures for disaster management, now it is time to take one step higher and use GIS in Emergency Management Services, to prevent further disaster from occurring in our City of Montreal.

growth of GIS in public health

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

(Written by Intro to GIS student, JvdB)

The benefits of GIS programs are becoming more apparent in public health care. In January 2008 the second semi-annual international symposium on HealthGIS will be held in Bangkok, Thailand. Its primary goal is to offer “a holistic picture of preparedness for combating epidemics and ensuring proper health care”. Previously, over 350 delegates from 22 countries took part in the hopes of planning strategies to combat diseases such as AIDS and malaria and to ensure safer and healthier living conditions.

Because of GIS’s ability to account for environmental spatial factors such as water quality, climate, and pollution as well as socio-economic spatial factors such as water management, proximity to healthcare facilities, and education, GIS analysis can help understand the impact of these factors on human health. An assessment of the spread of diseases over time, the spatial patterns of outbreaks, the population groups at most risk, the availability and access to health care can be made with the hopes of intervention and improvement.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has also been actively using GIS programs and continues to promote their usage. GIS is valued due to the spatial component existing in health data, the value of maps and visual representations with respect to public health data and the ability to correlate a variety of health data with other data such as census and environmental data.

GIS is used at all levels of government, from federal to local, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and research groups to coordinate information and research dealing with issues such as disease prevention, emergency preparedness and response and public health planning.

The use of GIS services in public health is growing and being recognized around the world. In addition to Canada and HealthGIS, ESRI is holding a health GIS conference in Washington, D.C. in the fall of 2008, to explore the use of GIS solutions in health services organizations around the world. ESRI also has a newsletter called HealthyGIS.

mmorpg to the rescue of epidemiology

Friday, August 24th, 2007

Who knew all those so-called wasted hours would become useful? According to the article, the course of vector-borne diseases are becoming better known. However, individual reactions are not.

Writing in the September issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases, the researchers say diseases can be introduced into the controlled environments of online game worlds — which are populated by thousands or even millions of individual players — where their effects can be studied and then applied to real-world epidemic control and prevention.

(h/t Peter J)

chip implants to protect public health

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

One of the more ominous intersections of computers and environment, in this case public health:

Lawmakers in Indonesia’s Papua are mulling the selective use of chip implants in HIV carriers to monitor their behaviour in a bid to keep them from infecting others, a doctor said Tuesday.

no wonder my back hurts

Friday, June 1st, 2007

Apparently the increased use of laptops and PDAs like Blackberries have led to a surge in the number of computer users with back and muscle problems, some as young as 12 years old. I’m surprised that laptop manufacturers haven’t come up with a design that separates the screen from the keyboard in such a way that the screen can easily be viewed from a more erect eye-level.

clean green for the social elite

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

Green cleaning products are the Tupperware of the upper class.