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Health care geography and geographic epidemiology

What is GeoHealth?

The term GeoHealth has no official definition, it is open to your own interpretation. For us GeoHealth is about understanding the relationships between people, location, time and health. Scientifically, it represents the overlap between two professional fields, GIS and Health science.

What is GIS, and what do we mean by health Science?

This brings us to a new problem, what is GIS? The Acronym GIS is alternatively used with two different meanings, “Geographic Information System” and “Geographic Information Science”. Geographic Information System refers to the software that allows us to store, analyze and visualize spatial data. The term Geographic Information Science refers to a scientific discipline that develops new techniques to store, analyze and visualize spatial data. When we refer to GIS in this course we refer to Geographic Information Science. To avoid confusion, this is also referred to as GIScience.

This may not help a lot as the field of health science also contain a diversity of sub-fields and different focusses. We define Health science as a combination of two disciplines: spatial epidemiology (studying the distribution of disease) and geography of health care (studying the spatial distribution of health facilities, or variation in health status).

Questions Geohealth can answer

The central question to be answered during this online course is: “How can the field of GIScience help to solve health related questions?”. It does not really matter if these are epidemiological questions, e.g. “What is the distribution of disease over space?” or “Does the place where I live increases my risk of getting a disease?”, or questions related to the location of health facilities e.g. “Where is the nearest hospital?” or “Does this population group have equal access to healthcare?”. All these elements are included in GeoHealth.

At the core of all these questions is the understanding that Place Matters. The conditions of our environment vary, and this variation can explain differences in disease levels:

  • People do not have the same degree of access to resources like water and sanitation (prevention)
  • People do not have the same exposure (temperature in the Netherlands is low, Malaria mosquitos cannot survive here, so my exposure to Malaria is negligible)
  • Not all people have equal access to health facilities (in the unlucky event of getting ill, not all of us have an equal chance of getting proper treatment)

Components of GeoHealth

If we regard the domain of GeoHealth we require five different elements to make it work: spatial data, software, mapping, analysis techniques and people.

Overview GeoHealth aspects

In the coming steps we will visit each of these components and tell you more about what they entail, their current state of affairs, and the trends towards the future. We will do this from three different perspectives:

  1. The scientific perspective;
  2. The health care perspective provided by the public health institute of India (PHFI);
  3. Your perspective (our course participants).

This way, we will try to create a unique view of the GeoHealth domain worldwide.

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This article is from the free online course:

Geohealth: Improving Public Health through Geographic Information

University of Twente

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