John Snow would not be able to solve the Cholera epidemic with 21st century privacy laws!

A/Prof. Neil Coffee1, Dr Lukar Thornton2, Professor Mark Daniel1

1University Of Canberra, Bruce

2Deakin University, Burwood


In 1854, the Soho district in London was in the grip of a cholera outbreak with thousands sick and 600 deaths. John Snow a surgeon and general practitioner, used what is now referred to as the start of spatial epidemiology, to solve the cholera outbreak in Soho, London. In what is one of the most used examples of how spatial methods can be used to solve a health problem, John Snow mapped the cholera cases/deaths and used this to pinpoint the Broad Street pump as the likely source. Fast forward to the 21st century and this would not be possible. Health data in Australia are provided for research based on large, administrative spatial units that do not and could not be used to pinpoint or identify hot spots of health outcomes for targeted interventions. This presentation will look at two related issues associated with the use of administrative spatial units, the modifiable areal unit problem and the inconsistent use of the term neighbourhood in place-health research.


Neil is currently Associate Professor with the Centre for Research Action in Public Health, Health Research Institute at the University of Canberra and is a later career academic after senior roles in State and Local Government and has been involved in research and the application of GIS to urban planning, population, urban, and health geography for more than 30 years.

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