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Geogra: Media Release

A joint venture between Health Waikato and the University of Waikato is developing innovative technology that will lead to better targeting of health resources nationwide.

Graduate student Duane Wilkins is conducting research that integrates geographical information systems (GIS) into the public health service for use on a daily basis by health professionals.

"GIS uses multiple layers to geographically represent data such as food poisoning or whooping cough," Mr Wilkins says. "It adjusts the data using census information and highlights areas of higher-than-average occurrence for further investigation and action.

"These maps simply visualise existing data in an exciting new geographic and population-based approach."

Mr Wilkins' research is supervised by Dr Lars Brabyn of the university's Geography Department and supported by a Technology for Industry Fellowship of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

The project could lead to encrypted maps and further information being automatically emailed to local GPs, who could then watch out for particular symptoms. Local councils could also be informed of disease outbreaks in particular areas.

The work will create an add-on for existing "ArcView" GIS software, currently being implemented nationally by public health units. With almost 2000 cases of communicable diseases reported each year within the Waikato Health region alone, the program will be a valuable resource for regional health professionals.

"We are half way through the development work now and we have had promising results to date," Mr Wilkins says. "The new automated 'push the button' database integration technique that has been developed performs laborious analytical tasks in a matter of minutes - work that would take several hours manually or not be done at all."

The manager of Health Waikato's Public Health Unit, Tony Pipe, says the project is allowing his unit to produce a hi-tech tool that can be routinely used by health workers to determine health demand and resource needs.

"The research will provide us with the ability to quantify health problems in a more organised and successful manner," Mr Pipe says. "Health professionals will be able to use the tool to help them identify and investigate health issues. Timely management of issues - such as immunisation, drinking water quality and fluoridation - can then be planned and implemented."

The Technology for Industry Fellowship scheme allows students to work with businesses on research projects. Mr Wilkins' project is part of his study towards a masters thesis in geography.

"I am really pleased that the TIF scheme has allowed me to undertake research that has a practical real-world application," he says. "I majored in geographical information systems and have an environmental science background, so it has been great to use these skills to develop a product that may have nationwide implications to improve the allocation of public health resources."

-ends-

Contact: * Tony Pipe, Health Waikato Ph: (07) 839-8899. pipet@hwl.co.nz * Dr Lars Brabyn, University of Waikato Ph: (07) 856 2889, larsb@waikato.ac.nz * Duane Wilkins, Health Waikato, Ph: (07) 838-2569, wilkinsd@hwl.co.nz * Nigel Metge, Technology New Zealand at the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (Auckland Office), (09) 912-6730, or 021 454-095. Website: www.technz.co.nz

Prepared on behalf of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology by ID Communications. Contact: Ian Carson (04) 477-2525, ian@idcomm.co.nz


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