New Project’s Goal Is to Improve Tracking, Sharing of Public Health Data

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 3.10.41 PMEverything about chikungunya is painful. Even the virus’ name comes from a Kimakonde word describing the contortions of one suffering severe joint ache. Fever, rash, cramps, headache, nausea and fatigue are just some of the symptoms of the mosquito-borne illness.

Nor is tracking the spread of the disease across the Caribbean any easier. English-language reports on the virus’ transmission at the sub-regional level are put out by public health authorities, including the Caribbean Regional Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But keeping up with information from all of these sources can be time-consuming, especially if you just want to keep an eye on the spread of the disease in your own country, or get a sense of the broader regional picture.

“It’s easy to point a finger and criticize but I thought it would be better to actually demonstrate that something better could be done,” said Vijay Datadin, founder and lead consultant at Guyana-based Caribbean GIS.

Datadin should know. He’s made a career of applying geographic information systems (GIS) to the complex interrelationships between human and natural resources.

“When I looked at the outputs of CARPHA, PAHO and even the CDC, I thought they could be enhanced. Specifically, PAHO is putting out data reports in PDF format, which is really less than ideal. Where there are maps, they could be made more informative and charts would help citizens understand the situation more easily. I felt it could be done better, because they’re still doing it in the old-fashioned way.”

Datadin is co-lead on a new open data project that aims to fix two major pain points associated with the “old-fashioned way” of sharing public health data. First, as a one-stop resource for official chikungunya numbers, the online tracker seeks to cut out the hassle of having to check multiple websites, in order to get the latest collated statistics on the spread of the virus.


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