growth of GIS in public health

(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.

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