Written by Muhammad Asaduzzaman, PhD Research Fellow, Department of Community Medicine & Global Health, Institute of Health and Society, University of Oslo
Geographical information systems (GIS) is becoming a mounting concern to understand the disease burden, transmission dynamics of infectious diseases and programmatic management of the prevention strategies. As an environmental epidemiologist and One Health (OH) researcher, my research interests are focused on antimicrobial resistance (AMR), zoonoses and planetary health topics. GIS can play a vital role in these topics as well. Therefore, I aimed to equip myself in GIS methodology through specialized training to better understand my research questions and to present the research findings in comprehensive way. Recently, I attended such training with the financial support from Norwegian Research School of Global Health (NRSGH).
Descriptive Epidemiology of the Course (what, who, where, when and Why/How)
This was a specialized and residential summer course on ‘GIS in Environmental Epidemiology’ held from 4 -7 July 2022 at the Centro Studi in northeast Florence, Italy. This comparatively new course is part of the European Educational Programme in Epidemiology (EEPE) which is active since 1988. The course participants were doctoral and post-doctoral fellows from different countries such as Norway, UK, Denmark, Malaysia and Argentina. Dr. Danielle Vienneau and Dr. Kees de Hoogh, 2 experienced researchers on spatial modeling and environmental epidemiology from the department of Epidemiology and Public Health, SwissTPH, University of Basel, Switzerland were the course instructors. The course aim was to provide basic knowledge to the course participants on GIS for spatial data handling and analysis through a mix of lectures, demonstrations and hands-on practice using ArcGIS and QGIS.
My learning and achievement from this course
My PhD topic is the transmission dynamics and digital surveillance potential of OH-AMR in resource poor settings. Visualization of spatiotemporal distribution of AMR bacteria and genes is therefore crucial to identify the environmental hotspots as the mixing hub of such superbugs for both humans and animals . I have already collected the geolocations of my study samples and aimed to learn the fundamental skills to analyze and map GIS data. I found this course very helpful through which I have learnt geocoding, visualization by mapping, geographic scale and spatial precision, spatial relationships and how to integrate spatial and non-spatial data. I have also met few friends who have similar research interests and came to know about various projects from the fellow participants how they have utilized GIS in their studies. This course may not be sufficient to become a pro in GIS but definitely a good starting point for my future career goals. The course instructors have also provided few other resources to further work on. Based on the newly gained knowledge, I am working on a manuscript on environmental dimension of AMR using GIS mapping.
The way I would reflect on the course for me and my peers
First of all, this is an introductory course on GIS for which no prior and relevant knowledge or experience is required. Therefore, I would suggest this course to anyone who is interested in the use of GIS in his/her research, but particularly for those who are working on any aspect of environmental research. However, it seems intensive over time if anybody would like to understand the models and logics behind spatial linkage of exposure and contextual information for case studies used. Being a residential course in a nice venue on mountainside and far from the city, the ample time and concentration for the course required are ensured. Still I would like to have some break, peer-to-peer grouping and home task in between the course days to conceptualize every module well enough and 1-week course instead of 4 days might be better. As I mentioned earlier that GIS is an important and emerging tool in research and program perspective, that is why I recommend this course to the global health researchers to better realize its importance in public health and to acquire basic knowledge to visualize data through mapping and spatial analysis in GIS software.
Life in Tuscany (Florence and Fiesole)
As my first visit to Italy, I should have some impressions of this journey for my fellow colleagues who will visit next. Traveling during summer from one European country (Norway) to other was not such surprise for me before. The tropical hot and humid weather (temperature was 38-400C) in Italy reminded me about Bangladesh, my birthplace with sudden rain, lightning, mosquito and delicious fruits. I would not recommend any type of full sleeve dress if anybody wants to visit here in summer. Our training venue was in Fiesole, at the scenic height and northeast to Florence. I loved the surrounding mountains, neighboring big old houses with gardens and trees and picturesque nature.
While Fiesole is a calm and quiet residential suburb, Florence is a vibrant city with numerous museums, historical architectures, tourist spots and shopping places. Oniomaniacs (who have compulsive desire for shopping) should visit Italy, specially food and clothes are much cheaper here. Every year, few course participants lose their luggage in Florence airport (this year it happened to 3 persons I know ). If you don’t have memorable stuffs in the luggage, Florence is the right place to reform your attire. I trimmed my hair with 6 € and had 4 course dinner (including desert) with 9 €. The must visit site is the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Piazza Duomo which are one of the greatest Italian architectural treasures. Uffizi Palace and Gallery, Piazza della Signoria, the Loggia dei Lanzi, Michelangelo’s Medici Tombs, Palazzo Vecchio and Ponte Vecchio are some other nice tourist attractions in the city centre. I hope everyone would enjoy the course and the city as I did.