Geography of Health and Disease

Undergraduate course, Wilfrid Laurier University, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, 2019

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity

Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization, June 1946

Health is a multifaceted phenomena that is impacted by our genetics, lifestyle, and environment. Health geography is the area of geography concerned with health and disease of individuals and populations. Health geography aims to better understand the social, economic, environmental, and cultural processes that create geographic disparities in health and disease, and how these can be reduced. Geographic disparities in disease can take the form of clusters, spatial trends, or socio-spatial barriers that limit access to health care. This course is about the processes that lead to these disparities and the tools and techniques we can use to study them in order to create a healthier and more equitable world.

This course takes a case study approach to learning health geography. We will investigate a series of cases of diseases, outbreaks, and epidemiological events from a health-geographic perspective; asking questions such as how is the disease geographically distributed, how is the disease spreading, are there clusters of disease or resistance, what environmental and social-cultural factors are related to disease risk? In our journey investigating these cases, we will learn some techniques in geographical analysis, including working with disease maps and tables, understanding public health data and reports, and basic models of disease spread. Debates about health and disease can be contentious and conflicting, as health outcomes are often the result of complex processes operating over varying time frames. Understanding how to critically read, evaluate, and synthesize health information from peer-reviewed articles, newspaper articles, government reports, and other sources will be an ongoing focus of the course.

Course Goal and Learning Outcomes The goal of this course is to develop an understanding of the theory and tools of a geographic perspective on health and disease. In completing this course, students will be able to:

  1. Understand how built, natural and social environments impact health and disease
  2. Critically read and evaluate difference types of health information
  3. Interpret epidemiological data, models, and maps
  4. Describe and give examples of different types of geographic clusters of disease
  5. Conduct an integrative and original case study project from a health geographic perspective