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  • Writer's pictureannaschurmann

Making Maps

I have always loved sitting with an atlas on my lap, tracing my finger across different maps and plotting my next journey; by camel across the silk route; by train to Darjeeling; or by ship across the Pacific.

Less fancifullly, I am also intrigued by the different applications of geographic mapping to public health. This is especially relevant for ensuring even distribution of resources to achieve universal coverage; and when reaching people in obscure locations remains an enduring challenge – both hidden in informal urban slums and in far-flung rural outposts.

Using maps in public health has a long history – John Snow (1813-58) used maps of central London to plot where cholera deaths were occurring during the epidemic of 1854. With these maps, he discovered that the point of contagion was the Broad Street water pump. The pump handle was removed, and the epidemic subsided. This was the first epidemiological research and a central argument against the miasma theory of disease transmission (the story of this discovery is recounted in Ghost Map, which you can read about here).

More recently, my friend Caryl Feldacker also used maps to plot risk of cholera in Bangladesh. She also used GIS mapping to understand HIV risk in rural Malawi (read about that here).

So, when I was asked to create maps depicting unmet need for family planning across India I was thrilled. Vikram Srinivas from Bangalore-based Mapunity worked with me to create the following two choropleth maps depicting unmet need for family planning and contraceptive prevalence rates (any modern method) in a matter of hours.

These maps are a great tool to:

  • See which districts should be prioritized for intervention

  • Plan what synergies can be created through proximity of different project sites (where and how to scale up).

  • Understand how unmet need and contraceptive prevalence may be affected by different geographical features (remoteness, state and district boundaries, sites of conflict, urban hubs/population density)

  • Communicate and advocate with government officials or other stakeholders.

Other mapping resources

  • Here is another blog about creating maps for development, that explains how to use free downloadable software called StatPlanet

  • The resource Guide to Monitoring Scale Up has an excellent appendix on using GIS for monitoring scale up efforts of health interventions – definitely worth a read.

  • The MEASURE Evaluation project has done some great work on using GIS for M&E applications.

  • Creating maps to depict quantitative information is a subset of the larger field of information design, of whom Edward Tufte is the undisputed leader.

  • For more fun maps: a recent Washington Post article, with 40 maps that explain the world. Fascinating!

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