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TODAY news for Thursday, January 12, 2006

School of Public Health news

LLU leads worldwide organizations in efforts to link community of donors

The faculty and students of the School of Public Health health geoinformatics unit are helping to make worldwide medical donations more effective and efficient.

How are they doing this? By integrating data to provide information using geographic information systems (GIS) technology to make a map—but it is no ordinary map. They are creating a specialized system combining geography with important data such as medical clinic inventories. The map will feature the global relief and humanitarian assets of the various organizations composing PQMD—the Partnership for Quality Medical Donations (see <www.pqmd.org>).

PQMD donated hundreds of millions of dollars each year in medical products. It is made up of more than 20 member organizations, including pharmaceutical companies and non-government relief organizations. At least one of these organizations is represented in most countries of the world, but the depth of their in-country involvement varies and needs quantifying.

Seth Wiafe, MPH—instructor, environmental and occupational health, SPH; academic director of health geoinformatics programs; and director of the health geoinformatics laboratory—is chief mapmaker for the project.

“This project will ultimately assist PQMD members in sharing information and planning, which will result in collaborative efforts to leverage resources and identify unmet public health needs. And this is in line with the global mission of Loma Linda University,” says Mr. Wiafe.

Health geoinformatics students will also be given opportunity to assist with the project. As data comes in from around the world, Mr. Wiafe and his students will use skilled computer software to map sites—such as medical clinics, schools, and even simple water sources—and the supplies and personnel available at each location.

During a PQMD educational forum in New Jersey this October, Mr. Wiafe helped train PQMD members how to use the handheld global positioning system (GPS) devices that are used for gathering the data. ESRI ArcGIS software suites will be used in this project.

Armed with these devices, field workers travel to various locations and enter data such as

• top three most prevalent diseases treated at their facility,

• number of treatment beds per facility, and

• primary services offered.

Eventually all the separate PQMD member organizations would like to improve efficiency by coordinating services, sharing transportation and warehousing resources, and improving utilization of people, equipment, and data.

PQMD chair Anthoula Randopoulos  noted the impact of the mapping project during a speech at the October forum.

“Think of it. In time we will be able to pinpoint every project, identify every clinic, find who has an obstetrician or a cold storage facility, an airplane going our way, or a place where we might borrow a truck or a place to conduct a meeting,” Ms. Randopoulos said.

“And we will do this in collaboration with all others who happen to be starting on this great journey. WHO [the World Health Organization] among them. So that eventually it will be considerably easier for nations to be united against a common disease enemy.”

By Heather Reifsnyder

TODAY news for Thursday, January 12, 2006