HealthMap is a free and automated global health system that both monitors and subsequently visualizes reports of disease outbreaks around the world. By implementing algorithms that scan news outlets, social media, government reports and other online sources, HealthMap is able to identify patterns and trends in disease reporting that otherwise may go unnoticed if monitored by a single source.
HealthMap has been in operation since September 2006 and is a collaboration between Harvard Medical School and Boston’s Children’s Hospital (as well as many other partner organizations throughout the world that contribute data). Created by John Brownstein, PhD and Clark Freifeld, MS, the online application is essentially one giant map filled with points corresponding to recent case reports. Users are able to zoom in to a given part of the world and click these points to open up a small window that provides a brief description of the report. Usually the points contain a hyperlink to the original report, allowing users to quickly gain a detailed understanding of where, when and to what extent a disease’s presence was observed.
Perhaps the best example of HealthMap’s speed and effectiveness was its role in the 2014 West African Ebola crisis. The tool’s algorithms, which are able to simultaneously ignore irrelevant information while classifying relevant information, identified a “mystery hemorrhagic fever” in the region nine days prior to the World Health Organization’s official declaration of an Ebola epidemic.
Besides having developed powerful epidemiological monitoring tools, HealthMap’s team has created additional supplementary services that are available to users on the site. Of particular note is the Vaccine Finder (currently available primarily in the United States and a few locations in Canada), which lets users search for the nearest clinic providing vaccinations based on the disease they select. HealthMap also maintains a blog, The Disease Daily, which keeps HealthMap users and the public at large informed of epidemiological trends and other health concerns on a public scale with daily posts.
To learn more about HealthMap, visit www.healthmap.org.
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