In March, Ebola broke out in Guinea and has since spread to other African countries including Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria. It’s the largest and longest outbreak ever recorded with a 50 percent death rate. This is just one example why now, more than ever, public health officials depend on technology to provide accurate data in real time, making it possible to prevent the spread of deadly diseases.
What is Health Informatics?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), public health informatics is, “the systematic use of health information, technology, and computer science for public health practice, research, and learning.” Informatics contours public health programs by relying on “electronic disease surveillance systems and other web-based reporting systems” to deliver critical information with which to make informed decisions.
In 2008, the CDC created the Global Public Health Informatics Program (GPHIP) to advance the science of public health informatics and further the CDC’s international objectives. GPHIP teams up with the global public health community to encourage data-driven decisions and implement best practices to create, refine, and carry out health information systems.
The CDC developed the GPHIP to coordinate their international public health informatics endeavors with global partners and create the World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Center for Public Health Informatics. The overarching objective of GPHIP is to better domestic and global public health informatics systems and further the best informatics principles, practices, science, standards, and strategies.
The What and Where of GPHIP
For six years now, GPHIP has offered informatics assistance to nations supported by the CDC and works collaboratively to create and apply novel informatics solutions to bolster public health activities. Specifically, GPHIP has offered CDC support to create a monitoring device for the International Health Regulations (IHR). Additionally, GPHIP has worked with Health Metrics Network and Open Architectures, Standards, and Information Systems (OASIS) for medical care on advancing public health information architecture to use at the national level.
GPHIP worked with the Chinese CDC on creating and implementing a mobile information system to use in public health crises and surveys. Further, GPHIP has worked with the governments of the following nations to develop electronically integrated disease surveillance systems:
- Saudi Arabia
Effect on Public Health
In an effort to make an impact on global public health, GPHIP projects are intended to collaborate with multiple entities to improve the domestic and global public health informatics programs of participating countries. The two biggest existing projects are the National Disease Surveillance and Health Surveillance Network programs being cultivated and applied in Saudi Arabia, and the Electronic Integrated Disease Surveillance System that synthesizes geographic information, demographics, lab analysis, data collection, clinical information, and epidemiological analysis.
These projects aim to expand the public health informatics capabilities of participating countries, which will eventually lead to an improvement in global public health as a whole. That philosophy underpins the rationale of GPHIP as well, which is that advances in health informatics will help the world as a whole better monitor and combat disease outbreaks.