Maps are potent tools for describing the spatial distribution of population and disease characteristics and, thereby, for appropriately targeting public health interventions. People with HIV (PWH) tend to live in densely populated and spatially compact areas that may be difficult to visualize on maps using unadjusted geographic or political borders.
To illustrate these challenges, we used geographic data from adult PWH at the Vanderbilt Comprehensive Care Clinic (VCCC) in Nashville, Tennessee, and aggregated data from the North American AIDS Cohort Collaboration on Research and Design (NA-ACCORD) from 1998 to 2015.
We compared choropleth maps that use differential shading of political/geographic boundaries with density-adjusted cartograms that allow for shading and deformed boundaries according to a variable of interest, such as PWH.
Cartograms enlarged high-burden areas and shrank low-burden areas of PWH, improving visual interpretation of where to focus HIV prevention and mitigation efforts, when compared with choropleth maps. Cartograms may also demonstrate cohort representativeness of underlying populations (eg, Tennessee for VCCC or the United States for NA-ACCORD), which can guide efforts to assess external validity and improve generalizability.
Choropleth maps and cartograms offer powerful visual evidence of the geographic distribution of HIV disease and cohort representation and should be used to guide targeted public health interventions.