PUBLIC HEALTH INTELLIGENCE - through the Lens of Geographic Information Science
Individual and collective health can be heavily influenced by the dynamics of Geography (place and space). There is an inherent link between people’s birth place, where they reside, study, work, socialise and ultimately die. Places affect health experiences in diverse ways. Spatial location also plays a fundamental role in shaping social and environmental risks that inform health outcomes.
The understanding of connections between health and place is underpinned by crucial concepts and techniques encapsulated within the field of spatial analysis and modelling. The computer technologies that are used to calibrate, interpret and visualise geographic models relevant to epidemiology are popularly known and Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
The deployment of spatial analytical techniques within a GIS framework to public health in Nigeria holds monumental promise for advancing our understanding of the ecology and causes of complex mix of health issues including the design and evaluation of population-based interventions.
Geo-computational techniques can be used to synthesise and summarise vast volumes of multidimensional datasets into visually compelling outputs which can provide sophisticated insights capable of engaging policy stakeholders and the wider public. A few other broader application areas that can advance public health initiatives in Nigeria include: population profiling; targeting strategic and operational health interventions; informing health service planning; social marketing; measuring inequalities and inequities; benchmarking and comparison; location-allocation planning and forecasting disease outbreaks.
The issues confronting the Nigerian health sector are complex and varied. Research-oriented solutions will therefore require an integrative multidisciplinary approach underpinned by collaborative partnerships amongst healthcare specialists, traditional and non-traditional allies from other disciplines.