Interview with Dr. Amy Blatt: Special Contributor for IJAGR

Developments in Disease Surveillance: The Prevention of Outbreak

By IGI Global on May 2, 2013
International Journal of Applied Geospatial Research (IJAGR)Dr. Amy Blatt, President of TerraFirm International Corp, recently wrote a special issue for IGI Global's International Journal of Applied Geospatial Research (IJAGR), in which she highlighted major developments in disease surveillance and identified a number of public health opportunities for geospatial thought leaders to undertake.

Dr. Blatt recently hosted a presentation on this subject area at the Association of American Geographers' Annual Meeting in Los Angeles, California. Held from April 9 to April 13, 2013, the conference featured over 6,000 presentations, posters, workshops, and field trips by leading scholars, experts, and researchers. Geographers, GIS specialists, environmental scientists, and other leaders gathered to collaborate on the latest in research and applications in geography, sustainability, and GIScience. IGI Global recently hosted an interview with Dr. Blatt, to explore this niche field of geographical health information and synthetic and integrative disease surveillance systems.

AAG ConferenceIGI Global: Tell us a little about your presentation. What were the most important issues addressed?

Amy Blatt: The presentation was part of a special symposium organized within the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) to explore new research areas in health and social environments. An important issue that the presentation addressed was the interesting opportunity for disease surveillance research that arose from the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The Act called for the establishment of a national health information exchange and makes possible the capture of electronic data for a large number of public health research programs. My presentation focuses on the many ways in which geographers can use this data to expand the current practice of disease surveillance.

What have you found most fascinating in the research and development of your special journal issue of IJAGR?

Honestly, I found the most fascinating aspect of the special journal issue in IJAGR to be the many different ways that geographers have to understand the spread of disease. From a prototype volunteered geographic information system to be deployed in Kenya to the evaluation of a tuberculosis treatment program in India, this special issue explores the wide range of geospatial techniques used to address geographic medicine and infectious diseases.

Where do you see the future of Geospatial Applications in Disease Surveillance?

There are many opportunities for geographers to make significant contributions to the field of disease surveillance. For instance, there is currently a growing field of interest in volunteered geographic information that can potentially contribute valuable geo-tagged public health information useful to disease surveillance efforts. Given that this information contains a geographic component, several data quality and sharing issues need to be addressed – such as the nature of privacy and ethics in this use of this volunteered mode of disease surveillance. In addition, the proliferation of web technologies, such as Web 2.0 and mashups, holds promising frontiers for medical geographers to develop a new research agenda for disease surveillance that incorporates the principles of an accessible and distributed surveillance framework, integrating multiple sources of data based on shared references to the common geographic locations. The research methods needed to address these issues span a number of paradigms, from the technical dimensions of GIScience to the social critiques of contemporary human geography. As a consequence, these questions have the power to engage a broad cross-section of geographers.

Who could most benefit from your research and study findings?

Scientists who are interested in an integrative and synthetic approach to disease surveillance will find that this special journal issue will expose them to the wide range of geospatial techniques that are needed to develop such a comprehensive system.

Is there any message you would like to give to your readers as it pertains to the research?

At many points in this special journal issue of IJAGR, I have drawn attention to the need for further integrative research on disease surveillance and for action by the community of professional medical geographers. Topics such as spatial data quality and resolution, the legal and ethical issues of volunteered geographical health information, and the technical demands of formulating a synthetic and integrative disease surveillance system cry out for the kinds of research that only geographers can undertake. I hope this special journal issue of IJAGR serves as a call for action to all geographers, both to take advantage of this exciting opportunity and to forge a new disciplinary identity that engages geographic researchers in the forefront of these international discussions in public health.

The International Journal of Applied Geospatial Research (IJAGR) is a quarterly, peer-reviewed journal specializing in studies from applied geography that interface with geographic information science and technology. Including both regular and special themed issues, this journal presents policy analysts, geospatial practitioners, and academicians with high-quality articles exemplifying various application domains within applied geospatial research.
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