Devastating natural disasters are often followed by equally destructive outbreaks of illness and disease. HealthMap, a website and interactive app, draws information from online sources to create a comprehensive and up-to-date picture of emerging public health threats, helping to limit and control them before they are able to spread.
Following our article last week on how digital tools can be used to help the situation in Nepal, here’s another example of the way in which online platforms can directly help relief efforts on the ground. We’re all aware of the shocking numbers of lives lost in the earthquake that hit Nepal just over a week ago – the death toll now stands at 7,500 people, with another 14,500 injured – but experts are now warning that the devastated country may soon be facing another challenge in the form of the uncontrolled spread of serious diseases. Indeed, some experts claim that the imminent outbreak, were it to happen, may actually claim more lives than the earthquake itself.
Unfortunately, humanitarian disasters are often followed by viral outbreaks and countries that are already suffering are dealt yet another blow. Factors such as contaminated water, poor sanitation and people living close together in makeshift shelters or simply out in the open, can lead to the spread of dysentery, cholera and other water-borne diseases. Countries often feel the impact of these outbreaks long after the initial incident is over and it can take many years for them to recover. Remember the 2010 Haiti earthquake? That lead to the worst cholera outbreak in recent history, an epidemic that the country is still struggling to contain.
HealthMap, set up back in 2006, is a digital tool that helps locate and track viral trends, slow down the global spread of disease and ultimately decrease the number of deaths. The tool collects data every hour, every day, each and every year, absorbing and analysing huge amounts of information from tens of thousands of different sources, including social media posts, news updates, health clinic reports, pharmacies and information from workers on the ground. The relevant results are then presented in a vivid visual form, as a user-friendly map, on their website. Offering comprehensive, precise and up-to-date information, HealthMap is an indispensable data source for health professionals who need to try and stay on top of situations that are constantly changing.
HealthMap is also available as a mobile app too. Called Outbreaks Near Me, the app lets you see real-time disease outbreak information on your mobile, check for current health issues in your neighbourhood and even draw up a report yourself. When it comes to controlling the spread of deadly diseases, HealthMap clearly demonstrates that knowledge is power.
To visit the map and see information about health in your local area, head over to the HealthMap official website. For a brief overview of the project, check out the video below: