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GIS and Health Issues

Geographers Andrew Curtis and Jacqueline W. Mills will speak on the use of GIS (Geographical Information System) in addressing health-related issues such as health vulnerability, disaster evacuation, disaster recovery, urban health analysis and personal confidentiality in the media at 7 p.m., Jan. 28 in the McIntosh Ballroom.

Curtis is in the Department of Geography at the University of Southern California. Prior to this, he was director of the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Center for Remote Sensing and GIS for Public Health (WHOCC )at Louisiana State University. His research interests are centered around the geography of health, with a particular emphasis on spatial analysis, GIS and geospatial technology. His work ranges from analyzing spatial patterns of disease occurrence to developing new methods of fine-scale (neighborhood) geospatial data collection.

In 2005 after the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, he and his WHOCC lab helped with geospatial support for search and rescue operations in the Louisiana Emergency Operation Center. He continues to work on various Katrina recovery projects and in 2007 was part of a team receiving the Meredith F. Burrill Award by the Association of American Geographers for the development of a Katrina-related GIS Clearinghouse Cooperative.

Mills is in the Department of Geography at the California State University at Long Beach. Her research interests are focused around Geographic Information Science (GISc) approaches to the study of natural disasters, particularly how places recover from these events and how people modify their environment to become disaster-resilient. Her specific interests include land use, health, policy, community participation through GISc, and geospatial risk communication. She continues to work in post-Katrina New Orleans as well as in areas impacted by the 2007 Southern California wildfires.

Their topic will be “GIS, Geospatial Technologies and Health: Updating John Snow.”

This presentation will provide an overview of the ways in which GIS and geospatial technologies are now being used to further understanding of spatial patterns and associations within health data. Examples include finding “hotspots,” linking health outcomes to neighborhood factors and even monitoring subjects in near-real time using biometric sensors. One recurring theme through the talk will be the discussion of new methods of geospatial field data collection, for example using a PDA and a web-based GIS in the rainforests of Mexico to provide spatial support to ethnographic researchers studying Chagas disease, or (near) real-time mapping of built environments using GPS encoded video.

This talk will draw on projects conducted by the former World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Remote Sensing and GIS for Public Health (WHOCC) at Louisiana State University and the Spatial Science Program at the University of Southern California. These projects range across geographic scales and time frames, from understanding how neighborhood complexity is associated with poor pregnancy outcomes to the identification of diffusion patterns in the 1878 yellow fever epidemic of New Orleans.

The presentation will also stress how social context must also accompany spatial analyses and how geographers are uniquely situated to draw upon research from multiple disciplines as we tie findings into a common space. The talk will conclude with a discussion of one of the biggest concerns involving the way geospatial technologies are now being employed in health research: the preservation of spatial confidentiality. An example is presented showing how mapped mortalities from Hurricane Katrina were re-engineered back to an actual residence. In other words, if Snow were investigating Cholera today, his map should never be published.