GIS for effect, disease, and outbreak response

Thanks to Andrea for this post.

Public health needs are most often at the forefront of international discussion. Disease outbreaks need to be readily dealt with, as to minimize effects. The tragedy of epidemics is to great to risk. Proper planning, with up-to-date and useful information, is needed in any effective decision-making process. GIS has become an invaluable tool to address public health needs.

With the development of the Public Health Mapping and GIS program in 1993, the World Health Organization can now map disease outbreaks, assess epidemic risk and analyze epidemiological data. Analysis of spatial data in tabular format often misses details and trends in space. GIS has facilitated decision-making processes by creating a visual representation of disease to look at outbreak control, monitoring and management.

The roles of GIS in WHO’s Public Health Mapping and GIS program include: determining the geographic distribution of disease, analyzing spatial and temporal trends in disease, determining populations at risk and other risk factors, and planning resources, targets, intervention and monitoring needed to mitigate impacts of the disease.

GIS maps diseases outbreaks in relation to social and ecological variables that may factor into the spread of the disease, such as population demographics, the natural environment and existing health services. Visualization of the problem aids in targeting areas of greatest concern, for more effective disease treatment and control.

Mapping of disease is not a new thing, but GIS can do this faster than ever before. The speed at with GIS can map the distribution of disease and the social and ecological that may play a role in the spread of the disease can get aid to the areas its most needed, fast. There is great hope in the fact that GIS can target areas that lack the health resources to deal with disease outbreak, making aid more readily available to those who do not have the basic, required health resources and to those in areas of high risk.

WHO’s HealthMapper describes applications of the Public Health Mapping and GIS program. Over 500 people in 70 countries have been trained to use GIS software; this has resulted in the mapping of HIV/AIDS risk worldwide, malaria spread in Ethiopia and post-tsunami relief in Indonesia. The visual representation of disease leads, not only to better and more prompt decision-making processes in disease control, but also to better public awareness and understanding of epidemics.

Check out WHO’s Global Atlas for interactive maps on disease distributions. The site also contains excellent encyclopedic descriptions of the use of GIS for health mapping.

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