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Chapter 11: Geographic Information Systems

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Chapter Goals

To ensure implementing partners and site-level staff are able to use GIS technology to:

  • Efficiently locate and schedule voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) services to improve VMMC uptake by males in communities
  • Adequately match VMMC services to priority geographic areas and priority male age groups.

What Users Need to Know

What is GIS?

Figure 11.1. GIS Displays Multiple Datasets in Layers

Figure 11.1. GIS Displays Multiple Datasets in Layers. Layer 1 is street data, Layer 2 is buildings data, Layer 3 is vegetation layer, Layer 4 is Integrated data (all data together)
Source: GAO

A geographic information system (GIS) is a computer system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on the earth’s surface. One of the advantages of GIS is its ability to support the analysis and display of multiple datasets and data types in one place. Each dataset is referred to as a layer (see Figure 11.1). This unique capability enables users to visualize, question, analyze, and interpret data to understand relationships, patterns, and trends [See ESRI website, What is GIS?].

In public health programs, GIS allows for a synthesis or layering of multiple types of data, such as infrastructure, human resources, and health and population data. GIS is increasingly used in public health in an effort to increase efficiency in program planning (Gammino 2014). Using GIS the Tanzania VMMC program reached more men in previously underserved rural areas and improved coverage from 48 percent in 2011 to 93 percent by the end of 2014 (Mahler et al. 2015). This chapter provides a brief review of GIS and how it can be used to improve VMMC program efficiency, citing case studies and other GIS resources.

Advantages of Using GIS to Target Programming

GIS is becoming an essential tool for public health professionals to plan effective and efficient program delivery strategies. Specifically, GIS can be used to provide decision support by leading to new insights that guide the understanding of health needs and program planning and implementation.

Applied in the health context, spatial analysis of GIS data can shed light on many health system questions, such as the proper allocation of community health workers in the surrounding population; the organization of the referral network based on characteristics such as health facility location and number and types of staff; and factors affecting service uptake such as the surrounding geography (for example, the proximity of mountains and rivers).

Using GIS to layer population data with health statistics is not new, but using GIS to view and synthesize multiple types of data in relation to each other—such as infrastructure, human resources for health, health statistics, and population data—to inform health service delivery is an innovative strategy that has rarely been applied.

In the VMMC program, GIS can help plan and forecast VMMC activities such as campaigns and outreach services. With information from a GIS database, program managers can select sites, plan routes, and work out anticipated challenges in terms of resource needs. To facilitate this analysis, datasets including health and administrative data must be collated into a database and geocoded so that they can be linked geospatially on maps. Once a database and system are in place, users can retrieve information about a particular site or community with one click on an interactive map, and they can use that information for planning services. In settings where there is no existing GIS database, program managers will have to collect all the information required in order to establish the database. For example, the information required may include GPS coordinates, maps, pictures, road networks, and facility staffing levels, among others. For additional information and resources related to data requirements see the section “For Additional Information.”

Tools, Instruments, and Guidance Documents

The following documents, which are available online and in the accompanying external media (included with the hard copy version of this Guide), provide the background information or procedural guidance used for development of this chapter.

  1. WHO: Creating a Master Facility List
  2. Using Geospatial Analysis to Inform Decision Making in Targeting Health Facility-Based Programs

To read more about the frequently referenced information, additional information, and to read related case studies download the chapter PDF.

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