Categories: GIS Data

Open Geospatial Data and COVID-19

One of the key outputs that have resulted from an unprecedented and global focus on research related to COVID-19 has been the creation of open data made available to researchers. Some of the key GIS datasets being used today are assessed and reviewed.

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Geospatial Portals for COVID-19 Data

GIS data has been made available in relation to COVID-19 from large companies, such as Esri, as well as by research teams and non-profit organizations. Esri has released country level data, bringing health, infection, population, infrastructure, and other data together and made available to researchers globally. This also includes data about reopening of businesses and places.[1] Large non-profit entities, such as the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), have also created a portal for researchers and others to access available data. In fact, their portal is essentially a bridge to other sites that have relevant data on infrastructure, population, and infection-related data. Users can also submit resources to share publicly.[2] Countries have also attempted to coordinate results through organizations such as the European Union (EU). The EU has created a portal for its member states that provides additional global data, but the site mainly focuses on EU-related data. The site has epidemiologists screen relevant data, from up to 500 relevant sources, with coordination by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) that validates the data quality. Unlike some other sites, the site also documents how data are collected to make efforts more transparent.[3] Similarly, the African Union (AU), with coordination from the Africa Centres for Disease Control, has created a data portal for its 55 member countries.[4] At a more macro level, the World Health Organization provides updated case and infection data for all countries.[5]

Esri offers a GIS hub for “maps, solutions, and resources for response and reopening” related to COVID-19.

Making COVID-19 Related GIS Data Discoverable

Given that a vast amount of data have now been created globally, some efforts have turned to making it easier to find relevant data using standard formats, including GeoJSON or CSV. The Corona Data Scraper aggregates relevant COVID data at a low granular level.[6] One of the challenges facing the COVID-19 response has been imbalances in how regions and countries can provide healthcare facilities. Healthsites.io provides analysts with global-scale detailed healthcare facility data, where local or national level data may make it hard to see regional or continent-scale health imbalances. In fact, the goal of this site is to provide detailed and comprehensive healthcare facility data that provides the data in a variety of common formats, including GeoJSON, CSV, Shapefiles, and KLM. Similar to the Corona Data Scraper, the goal is to also aggregate data where it is available in different sources to make it easier for researchers and healthcare providers to find relevant information.[7] Other sites have aggregated data on restrictions to travel or movement within countries. ACAPS provides global level data on restrictions but also a variety of other data, including dedicated reports and information on regions where data access is more difficult due to conflict or instability, such as Yemen. The site is focused for humanitarian workers and efforts who require data on the severity of the pandemic and current responses.[8]The Humanitarian Data Exchange provides user uploaded data on restriction and infection data which is also targeted toward humanitarian efforts and workers.[9]

Main sources of open health facility location data for Africa and dataflows between them. Source: South, A., Dicko, A., Herringer, M., Macharia, P. M., Maina, J., Okiro, E. A., … & van der Walt, A. (2020). A rapid and reproducible picture of open access health facility data in Africa to support the COVID-19 response. Wellcome Open Research, 5(157), 157. https://doi.org/10.12688/wellcomeopenres.16075.1

Given the variety of data efforts, the CDC in the United States recently published an online summary article that outlines efforts to publish relevant geospatial data and how they are applied, including what impact such data should or are having. They highlight that data should have certain qualities, where data should be:  applicable for forecast modeling of the pandemic, providing up-to-date surveillance information, having data applicable for contact tracing, developing an infrastructure at national levels to enable effective data provision, determining social vulnerabilities and health disparities, and enabling geospatial communication of data to the public.[10]

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Global efforts to combat COVID-19 will require a variety of geospatial data. National, corporate, NGO, and other organizations have responded by creating a vast array of available data. One worry has been that too many sources and organizations have released data, which can confuse researchers looking for relevant information. This is why some sites have acted as exchanges or as data aggregate sites to help researchers better find relevant data without having to search too many places. What the efforts highlight is there is no shortage of useful data, but coordinating the use of the data could and has proven a challenge. Better coordination in global and regional levels are likely needed, as highlighted by the CDC, and this has been more of a political and social problem. There are regions, nevertheless, that are still under-served in terms of relevant data, including conflict zones and countries that have had their international links restricted.

References

[1]       For an example of country-level data released by Esri in relation to COVID-19, see: https://www.esri.com/en-us/covid-19/overview.

[2]       For more on the OGC and data they have released, see: https://www.ogc.org/resources-for-COVID-19-from-ogc

[3]       For more on ECDC data for COVID-19, see: https://data.europa.eu/euodp/en/data/dataset/covid-19-coronavirus-data.


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[4]       For more on the African CDC site, see: https://africacdc.org/covid-19/.

[5]       For WHO data, see: https://covid19.who.int/

[6]       For more on the Corona Data Scraper, see: https://coronadatascraper.com/#home.

[7]       For more on Healthsites.io, see: https://healthsites.io/

[8]       ACAPS data can be found here: https://www.acaps.org/

[9]       Humanitarian Data Exchange data can be viewed here: https://data.humdata.org/.

[10]     For more on the CDC publication, see:  Smith CD, Mennis J. Incorporating Geographic Information Science and Technology in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Prev Chronic Dis 2020;17:200246. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd17.200246.

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