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GIS’ Perpetual Relevance to Health

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Dr. John Snow of England in 1854 showed that the cause of a cholera outbreak in a London neighborhood could be tied to a contaminated well by examining the location of buildings in which sickened people lived. Since then disease fighters around the world have used location to find the sources of illness, the pattern of disease spread, route supplies, medicines, and personnel to affected areas, and find the best places to test and vaccinate individuals. The effective use by health workers and government authorities of data enhanced by an accurate location has saved millions of lives around the world. However, there is still much more we can do to incorporate the science of location into public health operations.

In 2020, the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) began an effort towards establishing data requirements and a data model for a Health Spatial Data Infrastructure (HSDI). Leveraging broad community input to take a holistic look at health data necessary to support day-to-day care needs and pandemic-level health emergency response efforts. Supply chain issues, where geospatial tech has long experience, was also considered. The Health Spatial Data Infrastructure Concept Development Study (Health SDI CDS) aims to establish a comprehensive collection of data needed to provide point-of-care as well as administrative decision support for health systems, public health authorities, and emergency response personnel.

One of the many recommendations from the CDS is for the creation of an open dataset of health facility locations on a global basis.

This data is critical to both emergency response efforts supporting disease outbreaks or natural disasters, and for the day-to-day delivery of medical care. The value of this effort can be greater than its cost. Once the locations are identified and added to a basemap, additional key datasets, such as transportation networks, social determinants of health (SDOH), disease risks, etc., can be added to enable health risk analytics. Locations and quantities of key medical supplies can be added to help enable more real-time supply chain management. And many other use cases to improve global public health can be achieved.

The need for such data was also stressed by Dr. Ramesh S Krishnamurthy, PhD., Senior Adviser, Division of Data, Analytics and Delivery for Impact, World Health Organization (WHO), in his Keynote address at the OGC Health Summit 2021. The UN-GGIM included such a recommendation in its 11th session in August 2021. We are delighted to note that the WHO has launched the Geolocated Health Facilities Data initiative (previously the Global Health Facilities Database initiative) to document health facilities around the world. It is good to see that this international body is both attentive and responsive to input from international industry consortia, like the OGC.

We look forward to our Health Summit 2023 during the OGC’s March 2023 Member Meeting in Dubai to continue the discussion on how geohealth can improve the future of global public health.