It is perhaps surprising to state that we have an extremely poor knowledge of the global distribution of the vast majority of infectious diseases. A review of all infectious diseases of clinical significance has revealed it would be of public health benefit to map about half of these conditions; yet, astonishingly, only 2% (seven of 355) have been mapped comprehensively. This geographical ignorance frustrates a variety of clinical, epidemiological, and public health aspirations. Here we argue that this information gulf has serious implications for global public health surveillance and that too little attention is given to spatial epidemiology in international preparedness planning. Stated simply, how can we gauge the risk posed by new infectious disease outbreaks if we have only the crudest understanding of their natural geographical range? Additionally, how do we prioritize useful intelligence in the growing deluge of Big Data if the contemporary geographical distribution of these infectious disease threats is unknown? We suggest that it should be a policy priority to improve the ability to triage spatially, infectious disease outbreak alerts.
Hay SI, George DB, Moyes CL, Brownstein JS. Big data opportunities for global infectious disease surveillance. PLoS Medicine. 2013 April 2; 10(4). doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001413.