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The Incredible Growth of GIS in Global Health

by on June 6, 2014

Guest post by Marc Cunningham, GIS Advisor for MEASURE Evaluation

John Spencer’s recent presentation on GIS for the MEASURE Evaluation End of Project reminded me of the annual MEASURE GIS Working group meeting earlier this year. In his presentation, John talked about:

  1. An analysis looking whether conflict locations seem to have higher domestic abuse problems in Rwanda—a really neat piece of work.
  2. Research mapping HIV prevalence and prevention services in Iringa—an activity I got to work on when I started at MEASURE Evaluation.

The former illustrates the incredible growth of location-enabled health data. This lets us join together data collected by different people with different priorities, and examine them together based on geography. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. In the latter, we see the power maps have to communicate program gaps to multiple stakeholders.

Looking at the slides John presented, I thought about the breadth of GIS work for international health I’ve gotten to see over the last two years since I started with MEASURE Evaluation—there’s a lot going on. USAID launched the GeoCenter in 2011 to help support and coordinate GIS across the agency; CDC has used GIS to support emergency response to humanitarian crises; and the Gates Foundation has looked at GIS for planning immunization campaigns. I got to attend a meeting a few months ago, hosted by MEASURE Evaluation and the DHS Program, where we looked at some of the factors that have contributed to this incredible growth of GIS in global health over the past five years—and the challenges that remain. Two of the challenges I walked away with include:

  1. Balancing simple, easy to use tools which can be quickly adopted with more complex tools which have  greater flexibility.
  2. Identify what scale of detail is actually needed for the problem at hand.  We all love detailed maps, but sometimes too much detail can hide the over-all picture.

The full meeting and its conclusions are summarized here.

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