Uploading public health data into a GIS platform provides unique insights as to how public health problems arise, who’s most likely to be impacted, and what strategies should be employed to mitigate risk. And as the current Coronavirus pandemic continues, experts have looked to GIS data to map the outbreak and to help develop strategies to mitigate the spread. The ability to visualize data spatially makes it easier to track and manage issues more effectively, to understand disease starting points and risk factors, and to make decisions on how to best handle them.
Below is a high-level overview of some major public health concerns in the United States, along with examples of how government agencies are using GIS data to help combat and better understand these issues.
GIS data can help government agencies develop a predictive model of where epidemics could spread, and where resources like vaccines and antiviral drugs are needed most. In planning for the future, agencies can conduct a spatial analysis to review the overall response to a public health crisis and modify certain elements to mitigate the severity of future outbreaks.
Real world example:
The Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) uses GIS data to map the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The Opioid Crisis
GIS data paired with data gathered from addiction clinics help public health agencies understand where the crisis is hitting hardest and which demographics are most widely impacted. This can help direct the flow of appropriate resources, including educational materials and financial support for addiction clinics. Public health officials can continually upload information into their platforms to monitor the effectiveness of these programs in combating the crisis, allowing them to quickly identify what’s working or to respond to inefficiencies.
When communities experience outbreaks of salmonella, listeria, E. Coli, norovirus, and other such foodborne illnesses, it’s critical to track down the source as quickly as possible to prevent further outbreak. GIS mapping provides a visual guide as to where illnesses are developing and how quickly they are spreading. A strong platform should also offer a portal to communicate important information to communities at risk.
Disorders of the mind range from stress and anxiety, to severe depression, schizophrenia, dementia, and more. Spatial analysis is critical in evaluating communities dealing with higher levels of mental health disorders and can show whether people have access to the help and resources they need to support themselves and manage their symptoms.
Environmentally Derived Health Issues
The increased frequency of health problems such as lead poisoning, hepatitis C, or even certain types of cancer and autoimmune diseases require investigation of GIS data to determine whether there could be an environmental link causing these problems.
Childhood and Adult Obesity
Health officials now recognize obesity as a public health issue with many community repercussions. Public health data layered onto a map illustrates populations with a greater tendency to become obese, and can even reveal potential causes and how to help that population become healthier. For example, initiatives that offer easier access to grocery stores, public parks, and free community education and fitness programs have been shown to reduce some populations’ overall rate of obesity.
Real world example:
The CDC uses a host of maps and GIS data to track and analyze obesity trends in the U.S.
The CDC recommends children and adults have certain vaccinations to protect them against illness and disease. Public health data tracked on a platform can show where there are dangerous gaps in the number of people being vaccinated, helping officials develop strategies to make vaccinations more available to vulnerable populations.
Homeless populations face many health risks and are oftentimes unable to seek help when they have a health problem. Data can be gathered and uploaded into a platform to developer better policies that deliver needed resources to this at-risk population, including basic medical care or housing programs.
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