Geographic Information Systems Technology has become a key factor in preparing for and responding to health emergencies and disasters – PAHO/WHO

November 15, 2023. WASHINGTON, DC (PAHO) – In recent decades, geographic information systems (GIS) have become a key factor in preparing for and responding to health emergencies and disasters. GIS Day – celebrated on November 15 every year – is an annual event dedicated to celebrating GIS technologies and their global applications.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) uses GIS to detect, analyze, evaluate and respond to health emergencies under the leadership of the Health Emergency Information and Risk Assessment Division of the Health Emergencies Department.

The application of GIS in emergency situation is very extensive. During the Covid-19 pandemic, PAHO participated in the daily production of maps showing the status of the prevalence and spread of Covid-19 in the region of the United States. The organization’s GIS team collected and processed data on cases, deaths and hospitalizations to create hundreds of maps of all countries in the region that provided key information on the dynamics of infections. Likewise, the work of the GIS team is essential to monitor the 2022 mpox outbreak and continue to monitor avian influenza in the region.

In addition to helping public health workers better understand the spread of infectious diseases and obtain critical information to respond to the situation, GIS is an indispensable tool in the context of emergencies caused by threats of natural origin. An example of this use of GIS is A real-time exposure tool for natural hazards Developed by GIS Group. The tool helps users identify geographic areas and populations that are vulnerable to natural threats. The tool provides direct interactions with natural phenomena such as earthquakes, floods, landslides, volcanic eruptions, droughts, forest fires and hurricanes. These links are established by organizations such as NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric) and USGS (US Geological Survey). This data is overlaid with demographic and hospital location information, allowing users to identify affected populations and the hospitals that serve them. For this reason, GIS is very useful in monitoring the impact of various natural threats in the region of the United States.

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A recent application developed by the PAHO GIS team is A Dashboard Dedicated to monitoring events of public health significance related to the El Niño Southern Oscillation event in the Americas region. Based on the well-documented impact of weather conditions on the incidence of infectious diseases, El Niño conditions can be expected to affect the health of populations across the Americas. This dashboard will enable users to visualize disease episodes in relation to ENSO events and in relation to ENSO events to allow better understanding of the relationship between the El Niño event and disease patterns.

In the future, the use of GIS in the context of health emergencies will be even more relevant. As natural disasters are expected to increase in frequency and intensity due to climate change, our ability to monitor and predict emergencies (such as coastal flooding) will depend heavily on GIS. This GIS Day, we celebrate the advances in current and future applications of this technology for emergency response around the world.

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