It’s all about the maps
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out big goals and targets—and countries are making real progress in some cases. Under five mortality has reduced by 58% in under 20 years. New drugs and vaccines are continuously coming to market. Some diseases, like polio and guinea worm, are nearing elimination.
Even still, large gaps remain. Every day, 3,000 children die from malaria. About 100,000 children die from HIV-related causes each year. These are diseases that are entirely preventable and treatable. Malaria is controlled with mosquito bed nets, antimalarial treatment courses, and insecticides. Antiretroviral treatments are making it possible for people living with HIV to live a long, healthy life.
If solutions exist, then why do we continue to see such levels of morbidity and mortality in the developing world? Too often it comes down to a lack of the right tools in the right place and at the right time. In seventeen malaria endemic countries in Africa, for example, indoor residual spraying (IRS) is used at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars per year to kill mosquito vectors of malaria. In many cases, this tool is not achieving its full potential of reducing malaria, in part because it is not distributed to obtain a high enough true coverage. The World Health Organization tells us that IRS must be applied to at least 85% of a community in order to reach “true” coverage. Given the costs and the lack of enough resources to go around, the impact of this intervention sways further away from optimally saving lives from malaria.
Finding a better way
Akros (Zambia-based) and Ona (Kenya-based) have worked together to tackle the problem of low intervention coverage by using satellite maps and in-field technology to locate each individual house within a rural community. When field teams apply household interventions like IRS, teams can see, in real-time, the true coverage results they are achieving. Changing up strategies and supporting smart-planning to ensure interventions are applied to all houses that need them—even those in Africa’s rural bush that cannot be seen from the road . This type of geo-targeting and spatial intelligence is what is going to change the face of public health and navigate interventions toward people who really need them.
We are using maps in new ways to get important health services distributed at high coverage rates—essentially putting maps in the hands of health workers that had previously been operating in the “dark” with no addresses, paper, or digital maps in extremely rural environments. Now, with this birds-eye view of structures in an area, community health workers know which houses need to be reached with important life-saving interventions. This map-based approach provides navigation tools to even the most remote houses, and creates the ability to record data against each house where services are offered. The end result is specifically targeting services to the areas that need them most.
Using geo-smart methods to understand where people live in rural contexts will facilitate the provision of tools to get lifesaving interventions to those people in need. Imagine what effect precision interventions will have on accelerating the progress of the SDGs. Imagine the possibilities.
About Anna Winters, PhD
Anna Winters founded and serves as the CEO of Akros. Winters holds a PhD and MS in epidemiology coupled with extensive field experience leading the development and implementation of community-wide surveillance systems in sub-saharan Africa aimed at targeting health interventions to maximize impact. Through Akros and previously with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Winters works directly with host country governments to ensure viability and integration of health innovations. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org