Volunteer GIS group aids medical mission

The GISCorps Web site

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A U.S.-based state and local association is offering its expertise in geographic information systems to help the international Medical Mission Exchange provide better care to the poor in developing countries.

Exchange missionaries, who provide short- and long-term medical aid in developing countries, communicate with one another via a searchable, interactive Web site. But the list of hospitals and medical facilities to which the exchange can refer patients for specialist help is currently kept only in text-based tabular formats.

It would help the missionaries if they could relate that information to maps and other spatial data to more easily see which facilities in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Guatemala are most accessible to patients who are often located in hard-to-reach rural areas, said Juna Papajorgi, co-chairwoman of GISCorps.

"But unlike in the U.S., where this kind of spatial data are freely distributed, it's hard to find them for these [developing] countries," she said. "They probably exist somewhere in various institutions, but it means someone has to go and find them and then piece all of the data together."

So, five members of the GISCorps are donating up to 50 hours of their own time and computing resources to find relevant images and data and put them all together into mapping system for the exchange. Later, the data will be made available on the Internet for anyone in the world to access, Papajorgi said.

The GISCorps, working under the auspices of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association, coordinates short-term volunteer GIS services to underprivileged communities worldwide.

Beyond the time being donated by the various volunteers there's no time frame for when all of this will be completed, Papajorgi said, since it's an experimental project for GISCorps.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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