For most of the day yesterday, I attended a seminar at Harvard University to learn more about how to use the Africa Map tool. The resource is free and relatively easy to use. The tool will only get better and better as more and more people use it and contribute their own project level data to the project. The technology platform makes such sharing and storing of information easier.

Over lunch, some of the participants and I were talking about how new sources of information could be used to address global health issues. One of the participants was a woman from the Red Cross who was interested in learning how her organization could better use GIS and other information in their projects. We also talked about recent research from Google and Yahoo that has shown that search engine data can be used to predict future flu outbreaks. Pretty neat, except I just read an alternative analysis this morning on a new statistically oriented blog which claims that search engine data is a no better predictor of flu outbreak than just using past information more effectively. We talked about how Facebook and Twitter updates could be used similarly (as I was reading my iPhone for updates on Lance Armstrong’s surgery in Texas – in real time).

Just the same it makes you think. Some of it might may seem like hype for now, but I certainly can imagine a scenario where more and more real time and geographic information gets used in global public health efforts. However, given the very poor state of information on global health issues today (e.g. our the controversies surrounding the measurement of the prevalence of HIV or estimating malaria deaths) it seems a long way off.

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