Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Mapping Bloodlines

Today, the IFRC (International Federation of the Red Cross & Red Crescent) holds its 32nd International Conference in Geneva. Today as well, CARPHA (Caribbean Public Health Agency) accompanied by the WHO and PAHO/WHO, begins its Workshop on Network Surveillance of Diseases, in Port-of-Spain. These two organisations, both affiliated with highly-placed international organisations (the former to the United Nations and the latter to CARICOM) have mapping in their DNA.

One of the five founders of the Red Cross was Guillaume-Henri Dufour, a Swiss mapper, after whom Switzerland's highest peak Dufourspitze, is named. Version 2 of the popular open source GIS software QGIS was also codenamed Dufour. His face has appeared on postage stamps, including one from Grenada.

The father of epidemiology, Dr. John Snow, is remembered for stopping the 1854 London Soho District cholera epidemic. He did so by collecting field data as soon as the epidemic started and creating a map showing the location of cholera cases, leading him to correctly diagnose that the source was a contaminated water well(pump). The prevalent medical explanation for cholera at the time was 'miasma', so his work was a triumph of information management and mapping, and an advancement for society. As we know, today this combination of information management and mapping is called 'GIS'.

Whilst GIS has seen great progress in recent years, riding on the advancements in computing, telecommunications, satellite imagery, drones, etc., does the IFRC or CARPHA continue to use and improve on the seminal work of their founder and the founder of their field, respectively? If they could, what would the IFRC/ ICRC/ Red Cross Societies, or CARPHA/ PAHO, tell General Dufour and Dr. Snow, respectively, regarding their present use of real information management and mapping?

What would Dufour and Snow have done with GIS if they were alive today?

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