Gapminder looks at injury

The international community of injury prevention researchers and safety promotion advocates convened in London last week for the 10th World Conference on Injury Prevention & Safety Promotion. Professor Mark Bellis, chairman of the host national organizing committee in the UK should be proud of the conference his team produced.

One of the highlights of the meeting for me – as for many delegates – was a plenary session presentation by Professor Hans Rosling, from the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, and chairman of the Gapminder foundation. He demonstrated the use of their Trendalyzer software to visualize injury data across countries and over time. According to the Gapminder website, the Trendalyzer software seeks “to unveil the beauty of statistical time series by converting boring numbers into enjoyable, animated and interactive graphics.” It’s not difficult to argue that the developers have succeeded in this effort.

The software is freely available on the web and in a desktop format. The addition of injury mortality data to the large and growing database makes this a fascinating way for injury researchers and advocates to illustrate the burden of injury, examine disparities in the distribution of that burden and to both explore and to visualize the temporal and sociodemographic correlates of in injury risk.

Rosling gave a few interesting examples in his London talk. For example, he showed the negative correlation between cars, trucks & buses per 1000 people and traffic injury mortality. That is, people in countries with more vehicles per capita are safer on the roads than are those in countries with relatively few vehicles. This implies that in the UK it takes almost 10,000 vehicles to cause one traffic fatality while in Ethiopia only 7 cars are required to cause 1 death. His tongue-in-cheek conclusion was to get people into cars as quickly as possible.

The program is addictive. You can start to look at any number of correlations, generating ideas and hypotheses as you go. Is there a relationship between adult literacy and the rate of suicide?  What about the risk of drowning as related to the size of the agricultural sector (and what is happening in Nigeria from 2002-2004)?

Violence and injury indicators available include traffic fatalities, drowning, burns, suicide and homicide. Understandably, the data are not available for all countries in all years, and the data sources may be more or less reliable. But that these data are available in this format at all is a big step forward. Have a look and tell us what you learn!