Look at That Beautiful Map – How Can We Use That Technology to Improve Maternal and Newborn Survival?

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By: Allisyn Moran, Senior Maternal Health Advisor, USAID

Last month in Mexico City at the Global Maternal and Newborn Health Conference, we discussed a variety of important topics for improving maternal and newborn health. The main themes of the conference were quality, integration, and equity – all essential elements for attaining ambitious global targets outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals. One cross-cutting theme raised over and over again in the plenaries and technical sessions was the role of measurement.

Measurement is crucial to track progress toward global targets and goals, whether working in a health facility, reviewing data as a district manager, or consolidating and reviewing data at the regional or national level. One panel on data visualization was especially interesting.

The panel described different ways to use data visualization or mapping to show data, ease its interpretation and facilitate decision-making.  With new technology, data visualization is becoming easier and easier.

At the facility level, DHIS 2 has a mapping capacity that allows district managers to look at key indicators and how they change over time. More complex maps can use mapping software to display facility locations and the types of services, commodities and human resources available at those facilities. At sub-national or national levels, health data can be combined with geographic data to show facility locations in relation to the population (or where births are expected). Using modeling, we can put together travel time maps to visually display access to facilities for different populations. These maps can be used to facilitate discussions with stakeholders on where new facilities should be built or where current facilities could be improved to decrease travel time.

Other maps can be developed to display maternal and newborn health outcomes at the sub-district or district level, to see where performance is good and where improvement is needed.  Maps can even display mortality rates and ratios at facility, district, sub-national and national levels.  All you need is to combine data from various sources (population data, household surveys, health facility surveys, routine monitoring data, geographic information on landcover, road networks, geocoded facility locations, and others).

A recent publication on state of the art mapping for maternal and newborn health outlines current assumptions and guidelines for creating these maps. There is also an informal network of MNH mapping experts, and we encourage you to join. Please email Mira Thompson at the Maternal and Child Survival Program (MCSP) if you would like to join the network (Mira.Thompson@jhpiego.org).

Mapping is a powerful tool with great potential to be a game-changer in improving maternal and newborn survival.