From SARS to COVID-19, How GIS Maps are a Valuable Data Source

Tracking the spread and distribution of disease through GIS techniques is crucial for implementing mitigation practices. It speeds up the pace of recovery.

From SARS to COVID-19, How GIS Maps are a Valuable Data Source
How GIS Maps are a Valuable Data Source

From SARS to COVID-19, How GIS Maps are a Valuable Data Source

When we come across headlines regarding a disease outbreak, the next column we see is a chart, a graph, and a map showing its path and density. They give us a warning and help the government and health care providers to prepare for a possible outbreak. Tracking the spread and distribution of disease through GIS techniques is crucial for implementing mitigation practices. It speeds up the pace of recovery.

Let us see how various GIS dashboards helped during outbreaks like SARS, Zika, Ebola, and COVID-19

The modernized way of disease surveillance using GIS techniques

GIS provides us with the ability to combine several layers of data into maps or displays. The disease surveillance team can predict ahead of the curve using geospatial data and public participation. For example, the current pandemic COVID-19 is allowing people to enter the information of their surroundings. 

SARS

In 2002-03, the SARS outbreak had become a global threat. The centre of the outbreak was China, but this fatal respiratory disease was spreading around the world at a faster pace. 

Taking the initiative, the WHO published a disease map on the SARS website that was updated regularly. The map was not interactive like the present COVID-19 maps but was very helpful in understanding the spatial trends and relationships. A system was built on ArcIMS to provide basic views of the latest information on disease spread in Hong Kong. The suspected, actual, and recovered cases were updated using street and building databases.

The SARS Mapping Web site developed by Esri China was taken offline once the epidemic was over.

SARS website showing case distribution in China (Source: Esri)

Ebola

Another outbreak in March 2014, causing thousands of deaths that occurred in West Africa. WHO created maps for its geographical distribution in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. 

Geographical distribution of Ebola cases from 30 March 2016 ( Source: Emergencies preparedness response, WHO)

During this epidemic, public participation in the form of field data collection through mobile apps was appreciable. GIS was used as a mode of communication between people, health agencies, and the government. 

Story Map for tracing Ebola, starting from its origin to life span, is still there for information. 

Below is a map from Esri with details of Ebola cases across the world. 

Map showing Ebola outbreak in Africa in 2016 (source:www.arcgis.com)

Zika

The outbreak of this virus started in Brazil in 2015. With the help of Esri software, the US Department of HHS (Health & Human Services) office of the ASPR (Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response) created an interactive map. The total number of cases was updated automatically every week. 

Here is the location platform for vector-borne disease surveillance and control. 

(Source: https://go.esri.com/pr-zika)

NASA also forecasted the risk through modelling using GIS. It displayed a suitable environment for the virus-carrying mosquitos like temperature, humidity, and season. 

A risk assessment map for Zika outbreak (Source: NASA TV)

COVID-19

The current pandemic we are facing is coronavirus spread. Through experience and new innovations, we are prepared with several interactive maps, apps, and dashboards. Be it John Hopkins' most visited dashboard or a user-friendly Aarogya Setu App; technology is there for citizens to control the transfer of viruses and spreading awareness.

With each outbreak, GIS disease platforms have improved and provided us with their better versions.

Also Read: ESA Program to Help with COVID-19. How can Earth Observation Data Help?