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Spatial Turn in Health Research

March 22, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC — In an article published today in Science, researchers describe how new developments in geographic science and technology can increase understanding of disease prevalence, etiology, transmission, and treatment. The article, “Spatial Turn in Health Research,” appears in the March 22, 2013 issue of Science.

“Geographic visualization and analytical tools are enabling researchers to identify spatial patterns and to model specific processes of disease diffusion or contagion, such as of pandemic influenza viruses, or evolving genetic strains of hepatitis or tuberculosis,” said lead author Douglas Richardson of the Association of American Geographers (AAG).

Medical researchers are also using geographic information systems (GIS), spatial statistics, and interactive mapping to better understand HIV concentration hotspots and transmission corridors around the world. This kind of GIS-based analysis enables proactive and timely delivery of tailored prevention and treatment strategies, such as HIV testing, antiretroviral therapy intervention, and education to the affected communities, said Richardson.

Geographers and scientists from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are working together to explore the development of spatial data infrastructures to integrate new geospatial research data across and within disparate health research programs. The Science article concludes that research agendas which systematically incorporate spatial data and analysis into global health research “hold extraordinary potential for creating new discovery pathways in science.”

Authors of the article are Douglas B. Richardson, Executive Director of the Association of American Geographers; Nora D. Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health; Mei-Po Kwan, Department of Geography and Geographic Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Robert M. Kaplan, Director of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, National Institutes of Health; Michael F. Goodchild, Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara; and Robert T. Croyle, Director of the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, National Cancer Institute.

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For more information, contact David Coronado at 202-234-1450 or dcoronado@aag.org.

NOTE TO REPORTERS: More information, including a copy of the paper, can be found online at the Science press package at http://www.eurekalert.org/jrnls/sci.

Science Podcast: http://podcasts.aaas.org/science_podcast/SciencePodcast_130322.mp3

Citation:
“Spatial Turn in Health Research,” Douglas B. Richardson, Nora D. Volkow, Mei-Po Kwan, Robert M. Kaplan, Michael F. Goodchild, Robert T. Croyle, Science, March 22, 2013, pp. 1390-1392.

The AAG is a scientific and educational society with a current membership of 11,000 individuals from more than 60 countries. Its members are geographers and related professionals who work in the academic, public, and private sectors to advance the theory, methods, and practice of geography. 

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