Many datasets can be spatially referenced to provide valuable information to those making management decisions in the health sector. When it comes to disease outbreaks or epidemics, Geographic Information System (GIS) can be used to provide excellent insight by analyzing epidemiological data, and displaying trends and relationships between different factors.
GIS can be used to produce visual representations, which are very effective in telling stories and conveying information. GIS is all about place and space and time if we should add the remote sensing aspect to it, therefore we can use this to investigate the what, where, and why of disease outbreaks, we can answer questions like,
Where is this disease found?
How does the disease relate to the environment around it?
Where are disease rates higher or lower?
How far is it to the nearest healthcare facility to seek treatment?
It has applications for understanding both chronic disease and infectious disease occurrence and dynamics.
Understanding the factors that lead to infectious disease spread is essential to preventing the spread and therefore managing an outbreak. If used in real-time during the early stages of an epidemic, GIS can be used to monitor and enhance understanding of the transmission dynamics of an infectious agent. This then forms the basis for designing, implementing, and evaluating intervention strategies.
The historical record that showed the first use of a map for disease outbreak is that of the Broad Street cholera outbreak in London, 1854. The thinking at the time was that cholera was spread via airborne particles. However, John Snow mapped the cases and was able to find a common link, a water pump on Broad Street. The pump was removed from use, cases of cholera then abated and thus the benefits of mapping infectious disease epidemics were understood.
The measles virus is a highly contagious virus and cases worldwide have been decreasing year by year, due to effective vaccination campaigns. The disease was declared eliminated in the US in 2000, but since then there have been pockets of infection arising. In 2000, GIS analysis of rapidly growing measles outbreaks was linked to pockets of unvaccinated children.
The emergence of a severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 was at the time, the first major new disease outbreak of the 21st century, and much like Covid-19, its spread was facilitated by global air travel. Online maps played a crucial part in monitoring and responding to spread quickly, however deeper analysis showed that SARS was highly localized and therefore only moderately transmissible. In turn, contact tracing and quarantine systems could be formed around this information.
In 2020 when the world became aware of a rapidly spreading coronavirus, the geospatial community banded together rapidly to apply their skills to pandemic data management. Applications and maps began to pop up helping citizens and authorities to understand where the vulnerable communities are, infection rates in communities, or hospital capacity. In Singapore, the National Parks Board even developed an app to help residents identify the least crowded parks to visit and maintain social distance.
Various organizations have developed these real-time dashboards tracking case numbers, deaths, and other important statistics, however, there has been limited geospatial analysis of the Covid pandemic
Geo-informatics might be referred to as the academic discipline or career of working with geo-data for better understanding and interpretation of human interaction with the earth’s surface. In a broader term, it is a number of different technologies, approaches, processes, and methods used to interpret issues relating to the earth’s surface for collaborative decision-making.
Geo-informatics deals with the structure and character of spatial information, and how it is captured, classified and qualified. It also concerns its storage, processing, portrayal, and dissemination, including the infrastructure necessary to secure optimal use of this information.
Some call it an art, some science, and others a technology. But all agree on its dealing with the acquisition, storage, processing, production, presentation, and dissemination of geoinformation.
Geo-information could mean “Geographic Information’ or “Geo-spatial Information”. It combines different types of data sets, from GIS, remote sensing, non-remote sensing, and more, to generate results in the form of maps and other forms of reports which allow human activities on the earth’s surface to be better interpreted and managed.
Geomatics is a similarly used term that encompasses geoinformatics, but geomatics focuses more on surveying. Geo-informatics has been grouped broadly under technical geography, along with fields like geographic information science, and GISc.
Branches of Geoinformatics
The seven branches of geoinformatics are outlined below:
Cartography is the study and practice of making maps. Mapping is a complex undertaking that combines scientific techniques with aesthetics to effectively communicate the spatial information that is mapped.
Geodesy is the science of accurately measuring and understanding Earth’s three fundamental properties: shape, orientation in space, and gravity field. Geodesy also involves the observation of all three features to track how they change over time and determine the causes of those changes.
Photogrammetry is another discipline related to geoinformatics, which makes measurements from photographs to map out the exact positions of surface points. They work similarly to standard maps, but the details are much more realistic, especially in the modern world where photographic technology has significantly advanced. In addition to mapping, photogrammetry can be applied to other fields including architecture, engineering, and quality control.
Remote Sensing is the near-certain acquisition of information about a phenomenon or a physical object without making any real contact. Remote sensing has been applied in many areas such as radar used by ships and airplanes to detect enemies or obstacles. Ultrasound also uses remote sensing, radiometers, and photometers. Similarly, aerial photography, which is used to make topographical maps, also employs remote sensing. Hyperspectral imaging, sonar, and seismograms are some of the many applications that use the same method to effectively collect data.
Spatial Analysis is a technique used to study objects or structures based on topological, geometric, and geographic properties. The technique is useful when studying the galaxy, as the modelling breaks things down to smaller scales that make analysis more manageable and practical.
Web Mapping is the use of maps created and delivered by geographic information systems (GIS) in World Wide Web format. There are several types of web maps that include analytical web maps and offer GIS analysis. There are also animated and real-time maps that show situations almost in real-time. Additionally, the collaborative web map uses data created by users who want to improve or add more information about areas that have not been extensively mapped.
Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) use satellites to provide accurate positioning of anything on the surface of the planet. Satellites have been in use for a long time, and their applications have evolved to include military defense and telecommunications.
Both Geomatics and Geoinformatics include and rely heavily upon the theory and practical implications of Geodesy. Geography and Earth Science increasingly rely on digital spatial data acquired from remotely sensed images analyzed by geographical information systems (GIS), photo-interpretation of aerial photographs, and Web mining. Geoinformatics combines geospatial analysis and modeling, the development of geospatial databases, information systems design, human-computer interaction, and both wired and wireless networking technologies. Geoinformatics uses geocomputation and geovisualization for analyzing geoinformation.