The Ministry of Health has admitted that there is hardly any upward transmission of information from around 24,000 Primary Health Centres (PHCs) taking place. The Ministry is dependent entirely on newspaper reports for information and assessment during the outbreak of diseases in many parts of the country. It has been found that it takes nearly an year for information to travel from PHC to the Ministry. The government has concluded that such disease surveillance is meaningless and its data was only for the consumption of government files.
GIS and health is the theme of this issue. Two important fields, so close to each other and yet so far apart in a developing country like India. The US and the UK provide lessons as to how these two fields can develop synergy between themselves and to the benefit of the society at large. Health GIS applications are an important area of activity at the National Centre for Health Statistics of the US government.The National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI), the United States Geological Survey (USGS), Census and many other databases, which are important for improved public health surveillance are widely used by the health departments. Recently, the UK national mapping agency signed an agreement with National Health Service (NHS) of UK for developing customised geographic information products for the health community. OSCAR, which tracks precise details of every motorable road in Britain, and ADDRESS-POINT, which can pinpoint any postal address instantly, are already popular among the emergency services run by the health authorities.
The GIS and the health community in India are living in two separate watertight compartments. Both need each other. The map sector of the country will find a large market for its products and services in the Health sector. The health sector will make a quantum leap in its service delivery using maps for better planning and decision making. But both are not able to talk to each other due to rigid institutional framework The limited and sometimes non-existent commercial orientation of the government organizations (like Survey of India, Indian Council of Medical Research etc.) in the country also led them to ignore the opportunities offered by new technologies like GIS. As a result, they continue to operate with antiquated technology and have little incentive, let alone funding to upgrade.
Let health create wealth.