Many organizations and even countries now consider spatial data as one of their assets for development. This is due to the reason that it identifies geographic location of features and boundaries on earth. The World Health Organization has also realized this potential in spatial data to help mitigate and control the spread of diseases around the globe. In order to cater this notion they developed simple user friendly GIS tools and services which helps the organization and other parties to perform their daily GIS routines and spread information to the people who are concerned. These tools and services – Health Mapper, The Global Health Atlas and The Remote Field Data Collection Tool – will be described.

  • By Tania Puspita Firdausy, Md. Imran Hossain, Franz-Josef Behr
  • Introduction

    WHO or the world health organization is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries, monitoring and assessing health trends (WHO website, 2010).

    It is required to provide up to date spatial data to decision makers at all of the levels that are concerned with the public health system. Therefore, GIS or Geographic Information Systems is an essential tool for such an organization. GIS and remote sensing data are necessary for WHO in order to keep the surveillance and control of infectious diseases, the determination of geographical distribution of diseases, analyzing spatial and temporal trends of diseases, mapping populations at risk, stratifying risk factors, assessing resource allocation, planning and targeting interventions and monitoring diseases and interventions over time (WHO website, 2010). Realizing the necessity of GIS for public health information matter, The WHO has developed a program named the WHO public health and GIS programme in 1993. Therefore, the main goal of the present study is to explore the present GIS programme, services and options offered by WHO in their website for public health mapping.

    History of GIS in WHO, goals and strategic objectives

    The public health and GIS programme used by WHO was firstly developed in 1993 with UNICEF to push the attempt to prevent the spread of the guinea worm disease that occurs in isolated, poor rural areas. The main goal of this program was to strengthen the capacities of infectious diseases and public health programmes at local, national and global levels through the use of GIS and mapping technologies (WHO website, 2010). The programme has two main objectives:

    • To strengthen national surveillance, prevention and control activities through the delivery of user-friendly data collection, management and mapping applications.
    • To strengthen the management, analysis and monitoring of priority infectious diseases at global levels, through the development of rapid electronic surveillance systems supported by user-friendly web-based mapping.

    WHO GIS services

    The World Health Organization has developed some GIS related tools, applications and services that are intended to help, create and manage critical spatial information that relates to infectious diseases and public health programmes. The tools and services are explored below

    The health mapper

    The health mapper is a GIS tool developed by WHO to provide critical information concerning with WHO infectious disease programmes at national and global levels. It is a user-friendly data management and mapping system customized specifically for public health users. The system facilitates data standardization, collection and updating of data on epidemiology and on interventions and provides immediate visualization of data in the form of maps, tables and charts. The purposes of the health mapper tool are given in the next page (HealthMapper 4.3 Learners Guide part 1, 2008):

    • To Give public health users a readymade standardized digital database containing information considered essential by most of them including boundary maps, environmental factors (such as lakes, rivers, elevation) as well as vital information on basic population and basic health, school and water infrastructures.
    • Provide the user with user-friendly icon driven functions to automatically create maps, tables and charts of their data.
    • Provide a simple data management interface in which the user can easily enter and update public health indicators in a standard geographic format.
    • Make the system coherent to operate at both local and global levels.
    • Provide the above to the users at low or no cost.

    The system used by this tool is based on Map Objects, so this tool is compatible with ArcView. The data formats it supports include shape files, .tif, .jpg, and .bmp. The database it uses is Microsoft Access. As stated in the Health Mapper documentation there are some key features of Health Mapper tool (see fig.1), it is possible to:

    1. Create thematic maps
    2. Create interactive graphs/charts (line graphs and bar charts)
    3. Create interactive reports of data
    4. Create, save and retrieve a set of favourite maps
    5. Selection, measurement zoom in and out, and panning capabilities
    6. Overlay additional layers
    7. Buffer creation around selected features
    8. Ability to create interactive graphs from maps to help asses trends over time.

    With all the functionality stated above the Health Mapper tool is intended to support and make decision making more efficient, easier, faster, and more reliable, as it will be based on the information or facts gathered and complied by this tool. The tool will help in the assessment of resource allocation, monitoring geographical distribution of the disease, determining the relationships and correlation between diseases help to determine intervention targets, make the data collection, analysis, and management more reliable, and monitor diseases and intervention over time.
    The Health Mapper tool is also equipped with a data management tool. This tool enables users to incorporate program indicators to the geographic database. Also it facilitates users to integrate their own public health data.
    Besides the data management tool, the Health Mapper tool consists of several extension tools, namely:

    1. The shape editor
    2. The import geographic data tools
    3. The point to polygon tool

    The Health Mapper also packages a database of core baseline geographic, demographic and health information, including the location of communities, health care and education facilities, accessibility by road, access to safe water and demography. The system is currently in operation to support a range of infectious diseases in over 60 countries in all regions of WHO. Key infectious disease programmes currently using the system include Roll Back Malaria, Lymphatic filariasis Elimination, Buruli Ulcer, Guinea worm Eradication, Onchocerciasis Control Programme, and Polio Eradication. In 2003, the system supported the implementation surveillance of HIV/AIDS/STIs, Tuberculosis, Control of Communicable Diseases in Complex Emergency Situations, Outbreak Alert and Response and Integrated Management of Childhood Illnesses (WHO, 2010).

    WHO's HealthMapper tool interface

    WHO's HealthMapper tool interface

    After exploring the healthmapper tool it was concluded that this tool is a powerful GIS tool. As stated above about its key features, this tool comprises all of the basic GIS functionality that is needed by WHO. This tool is also user friendly; the interface is simple and can be easily understood by a novice user. This tool can achieve its purposes described above.

    Part 2 is following!

    This paper was originally published in: Franz-Josef Behr, Anakkathil Purushothaman Pradeepkumar, César A. Beltrán Castañón (Editors, 2010): Proceedings Applied Geoinformatics for Society and Environment (AGSE 2010). Publications of the Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences, Hochschule für Technik Stuttgart, Volume 109 (2010), 206 pp., ISBN 978-3-940670-19-9

    About fjbehr

    Prof. Dr.-Ing. Franz-Josef Behr, Professor of Geoinformatics at Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences ( His specializations include * Internet, Internet GIS * XML, GML, SVG * Data exchange and Interoperability * Visualization * Open Source Solutions * Consulting Member of the DIN working group NA 005-03-03 AA "Arbeitsausschuss Kartographie und Geoinformation" (Sp CEN/TC 287+ISO/TC 211). He is the author of two authoritative books on GIS in German, one is "Strategisches GIS-Management", published by Wichmann Verlag (2004). The second is "Einführung in Geographische Informationssysteme" (1997).

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