Health Waikato and the University of Waikato are developing a geographical information system (GIS) to monitor disease epidemics and make better use of health resources.
The system will use data from events such as multiple cases of food poisoning or whooping cough, coupled with census information, to highlight areas of higher-than-average occurrence for further investigation. The project could lead to disease maps and other information being automatically emailed - encrypted - to local GPs, to enable them to watch out for particular symptoms. Local councils could also be informed of disease outbreaks in particular areas.
Graduate student Duane Wilkins, who is conducting the research funded by Technology New Zealand, says the work will create an add-on for existing ArcView GIS software, currently being implemented nationally by public health units.
The Waikato has almost 2000 cases of communicable diseases reported each year and the technique allows analysis work to be done in minutes - work that would either take several hours manually or not be done at all, Wilkins says.
The manager of Health Waikato's Public Health Unit, Tony Pipe, says the project will mean his unit can quantify health problems better, which will help the unit plan health campaigns.