The case study featured in this newsletter provided information about a pilot project to use geospatial maps for microplanning for a mass ITN distribution campaign in Burundi. This pilot included the participation of Health Promotion Technicians, District Chief Medical Officers and Health Information System Officers, representatives from community-based organizations (CBOs) involved in the campaign, and Municipal Administrators from the targeted areas. Many of the participants had never before used a geographic information system (GIS) or satellite/aerial imagery to digitalize the mapping component of the microplanning process for a health campaign.

The following is an interview with NTAHONDI PHILBERT. Philbert is a Health Promotion Technician at the RUYAGA Health Centre in Kanyosha, a rural commune of the Kabezi district. Philbert tells us a bit about his personal experience with digital mapping and his thoughts on the future of digitalization for ITN campaigns.

Q1: How did you find the digital microplanning process?

A: When we got invited to the workshop, it was very difficult to imagine how digitalized microplanning could be of benefit because we were used to paper-based microplanning. However, during the session we realized the great merit of digitalized microplanning as well as its potential advantages for the mass campaign and for areas other than health.

Q2: How does it compare with the non-digitalized microplanning processes that you have carried out in the recent microplanning workshops?

A: There is a huge difference between the two, especially in the accuracy of the results. With digitalized microplanning, the group work is done on a printed copy of the digital map, which is accurate in the way it shows the layout of the area. For the old microplanning, we used a stylized map drawn on the spot on a flipchart paper based on our knowledge of the area.

Paper maps are difficult to draw, are approximate and can contain many errors, particularly when it comes to the boundaries of the health areas. Nor do the maps allow an automatic count of the households at the level of the health area. A striking fact is that the digital maps have made it possible to correctly demarcate between rural and urban areas, which has always been one of the major challenges encountered during the old microplanning and during implementation of activities for health campaigns.

Q3: What specific advantages does digitalization bring to the microplanning processes and to the ITN campaign in general?

A: Specifically, digitalization results in the following comparative advantages:

  • Easy location of health centres, schools and various community reference points
  • Maps are already available, so adapting them to mark out the health areas becomes easy
  • Maps are very clear and it is possible to identify the exact limits of the health areas
  • It’s possible to allocate distribution points appropriately and plan for the right number of campaign workers in line with the density of households to be served
  • It’s possible to predict what workload household registration agents or distribution agents will have

Q4: In your opinion, are there specific challenges for digitalization of the microplanning process or the ITN campaign in general for rural areas?

A: I think that the main challenges specific to the digitalization of microplanning for all stages of a mass campaign are:

  • The availability of devices with sufficient internet connection to adapt the maps to the needs of each stage of the mass campaign
  • The availability of human resources that are sufficiently trained on GIS aspects to lead the digitalization sessions/workshop

Q5: What skills do you think you have improved or gained through this digitalization pilot?

A: This session made it possible to strengthen the capacities of the participants related to the design of the maps on computers and their adaptation to the needs of the ITN mass campaign. In addition, we learned new concepts related to digitalization with GIS.

Q6: How can digitalized microplanning support other community health interventions in future? Do you have any recommendations?

A: The added value that digitalized microplanning can bring to community health interventions includes:

  • Much easier location of very isolated areas, of unexploited spaces and of dense urban areas
  • Easier to see the best ways to travel between communities
  • Good potential planning at the community level in terms of infrastructure (schools, bridges, roads, contour lines, etc.)
  • Improvement of monitoring of community coverage after interventions (vaccination, ITNs, etc.) with accurate map-based monitoring of community adherence to services offered
  • The digital maps developed during the workshop can be used in other areas such as municipal development planning
  • The possibility of assigning community health workers (CHW) to specific areas based on accurate maps of the number of households to be monitored and/or visited

In terms of recommendations, it would be interesting to organize training to deepen the understanding of GIS, particularly the manipulation of Google Maps in order to adjust the layers of the maps according to local needs in terms of ITN mass campaigns, vaccination or any other community-based distribution services or community-based activity. We should also print the maps and submit them to the health centres as tools to support the planning of community services up to the last mile. This would allow correct and consistent allocation of CHWs in relation to the location and distribution of households within the health area.