A world of diseases

This site is a brilliant idea.

It’s a web site where you can monitor outbreaks of diseases as they happen. This automated system scours news services and online discussion forums, pooling information about emerging health threats worldwide.

Created by researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School, the data mining site aims to pinpoint potential disease outbreaks in local pockets before government and other health agencies realize they are threats.

“We hope that HealthMap will be able to identify outbreaks before traditional organizations become aware of them,” says John Brownstein, co-founder of HealthMap and an assistant professor at the Informatics Program (CHIP) at Children’s Hospital Boston. “The program is tracking in over 200 countries currently, and this helps to monitor the global impact of infectious diseases.”

Having scoured the site, it seems that Canada is a little low on disease outbreaks; we have only 24 compared to Vietnam’s 31 and the United States sizable 242 disease alerts. This isn’t really a serious criticism; but what is pertinent is the quality of information on the site. The success of HealthMap is dependent on adequate reporting of diseases as they happen. One of the major concerns of the SARS epidemic was the lack of reporting, and inadequate information released by the People’s Republic of China. We will see if this raises concerns for this cutting-edge epidemiological development.