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Location, location, location: what can geographic information science (GIS) offer sexual health research?
  1. I Simms1,
  2. M Gibin2,
  3. J Petersen3
  1. 1HIV&STI Department, Health Protection Services, Public Health England, UK
  2. 2Department of Geography, Environment and Development Studies, Birkbeck College, University of London, London, UK
  3. 3Institute for Social & Economic Research, University of Essex, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr I Simms, HIV&STI Department, Health Protection Services, Public Health England, NW9 5EQ, UK; ian.simms{at}

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Person, time, place is a mantra recited often when describing infectious disease epidemiology. To date sexual health research has been largely focused on individual demographic characteristics, sexual networks and behaviours. However, location is increasingly recognised as an important determinant of incidence and studies that include geographic information systems (GIS) techniques are being published in Sexually Transmitted Infections and elsewhere.1 Blanchard and Aral suggested that an individual's sexual health outcomes are highly dependent on those of others and the local environment, an influence exerted through sexual networks, risk behaviours and systems based around social interaction, education, microbiological factors, as well as healthcare provision and access behaviour.2 Spatial variation in the epidemiology of sexual health has been widely described and the success of intervention strategies is seen as being dependent on ‘knowing your epidemic, globally and locally’.3 GIS techniques allow researchers to explore characteristics that make locations inherently similar or unique. Here we focus on the local level as we consider how geospatial analysis can enrich our knowledge of the epidemiology and public health impact of sexual health, and consider the ethical, governance and technical challenges associated with this rapidly emerging field.

GIS integrate software and hardware to digitally capture, manage, analyse and visualise geographically referenced data but the term is also used to describe any analysis which includes location. Such analyses are not new: one of the iconic examples of spatial analysis is John Snow's map of a London cholera outbreak (1854).4 In 2014, the visual communication of geospatial information through interactive web based resources, infographics or traditional maps are commonplace and the …

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  • Contributors This editorial was cowritten and all drafts reviewed by all authors.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.