Strategies for Open and Permanent Access to Scientific Information in Latin America: Focus on Health and Environmental Information for Sustainable Development

Integration of environmental, social and health data using GIS: Lessons learned from three disease outbreaks investigations in rural areas

Christovam Barcellos

Health Information Research Department

Public Health sector is a huge data producer. More data is produced than our capacity of analysis. To improve this capacity along all governmental levels is a primary task for health surveillance system. On one hand, health data need to be analysed by other sectors, thus data must be available, easy interpreted. On the other hand, health surveillance must incorporate other data than the content of notification forms, which are driven to characterize case features. A comprehensive outbreak investigation must consider also place (environmental and social) characteristics.

In this work we describe three recent experiences of zoonotic diseases epidemiological investigations in Brazil: Hantavirosis in the southern Brazilian region, cutaneous leishmaniasis in a rural settlement, and toxoplasmosis in an urban area. The role of spatial data acquisition and analysis is reinforced, considering the intrinsic complexity of environmental and social factors affecting disease transmission. Disease transmission, particularly during outbreak situations, is a consequence of close relations between human and animal populations with the environment, i.e., the ecology of the animals involved in the transmission cycle and the human work in those areas. Spatial analysis allowed in all cases to characterize the ecology landscape in which outbreaks occur. Simple and available spatial analysis tools were used to complement epidemiological field investigations. Landsat satellite image (Embrapa, was used to characterize land use and suspected risk sources. Spatial data were analysed using Terra software (

Health surveillance in Brazil is undergoing a decentralization process, according to which, different responsibilities are required to each health institution, from federal level to county health secretaries, including local Non-Governmental Organizations. Investigations involved the multiple levels of health agencies. This practice assures the continuity and transparency of health prevention and promotion actions. These institutions must be integrated to assure rapid and adequate information flux.

The availability of data, as well as skilled use of spatial analysis tools, contributed in this process, allowing rapid and low cost assessments of environmental risks. The lessons learned from these experiences involve the development of spatial analytical tools, low cost technology appropriation by health professionals and the structure of health surveillance system in large and unequal country such as Brazil. This system is based on local health surveillance people, who must be able to acquire and use the available spatial data and analytical tools to detect and notify disease clusters. Considering the stage of information availability in Brazil, these practices could be incorporated to routine of health services using low cost digital mapping in localities with modest infrastructure, available and free information and software.

  • The Global Alliance for Enhancing Access to and Application of Scientific Data in Developing Countries, of the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development, UN G@ID
  • U.S. National Committee for CODATA
  • Brazilian National Committee for CODATA.
  • CODATA Task Group on Preservation of and Access to Scientific and Technical Data in Developing Countries