Mapping tool guides COVID-19 vaccine rollout in South Sudan

Covid mapping
A technician operates a PCR-test machine, and its accessories which will be used in diagnosing and managing Covid-19. Copyright: AMISOM Photo / Yunis Dekow, Public domain

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  • In South Sudan, COVID-19 vaccine rollout faces numerous challenges
  • Mapping tool developed to address bottlenecks in supply
  • Data helps locate priority populations, clinics, storage and transport

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[NAIROBI] A ready-to-use geographic information system to facilitate the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines is proving effective in South Sudan and could be applied in other challenging contexts, its developers say.

The Integrated Humanitarian Data Package (IHDP) aims to provide quick and easy access to key geographic data that supports the planning and delivery of vaccination programmes.

“A guiding principle in the project has been effective, efficient and equitable support to COVID-19 vaccine roll-out,” said Nick McWilliam, the project’s lead at MapAction, a UK-based non-profit organisation that specialises in providing mapping for humanitarian emergencies.

“We see the IHDP as being a part of a broad collective effort to increase national capacities to deliver vaccines from ‘airport to arm’.”

“A guiding principle in the project has been effective, efficient and equitable support to COVID-19 vaccine roll-out.”

Nick McWilliam, MapAction

McWilliam added that the project, which started in late 2020, uses mapping and geographic information to support “last mile” vaccine delivery efforts.

He explained that in South Sudan, COVID-19 vaccine delivery has challenges such as locating priority populations including those over 55 years old, ascertaining how many vaccines will be needed in each district, and where the clinics are located, and finding available transport and storage facilities.

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“Projects relying on data in these contexts typically spend 70-80 per cent of their time sourcing and preparing data before it can be put to use, leading to delays, extra cost, wasted skills and duplication,” McWilliam said.

The IHDP was designed for use by public health specialists planning and delivering South Sudan’s national vaccination plan, but its developers say lessons from it can be applied to many other countries facing logistics challenges.

The South Sudan pilot project was funded by a grant from the Calleva Foundation, with the main aim of anticipating the data needs for vaccine roll-out, according to MapAction.

The initial step was to identify which data themes would be needed for vaccine planning. Publicly available sources were used to identify relevant datasets for evaluation, followed by a process of selection, cleaning and enhancement.

“For example, all layers were given a set of ‘placename codes’— a consistent set of index numbers to accurately cross-reference names of villages, towns and administrative areas to avoid the confusion of different spellings and languages,” McWilliam said.

The datasets were also put into a consistent format, with tools to make them quickly accessible to data users, for example in geographic information systems in plain language narrative describing each dataset and its intended uses in detail.

Felix Emeka Anyiam, a research and data scientist at the Centre for Health and Development, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, said the tool could address logistical inefficiencies in COVID-19 vaccine delivery.

According to Anyiam, data is a critical component of healthcare provision but Sub-Saharan Africa is yet to fully embrace it.

“I am hoping [the] IDHP team will use this opportunity as a platform for sensitisation too,” he told SciDev.Net. “For example, in my region, many healthcare workers are more interested in their clinical work than data collection as they get very little or no support from the government to do this.”

Irregular power supply, and poor knowledge and limited supply of information technology gadgets are some of the setbacks, he explained, adding that developers of the tool should aid capacity building in accurate and timely data collection.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.