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Geographic Information System training in Sierra Leone

Africa is witnessing a surge in outbreaks of diseases over the past few years which has placed a substantial demand for Geographic Information Systems (GIS) skills by epidemiologists and other public health professionals to adequately understand spatial patterns of disease outbreaks and surveillance data to essentially deploy timely and appropriate intervention. Yet, knowledge and use of this effective system is limited among public health personnel. 

As a result, the Sierra Leone Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP) held a training on the use of GIS to address the health challenge by employing tools and skills necessary to equip health professionals including district officers, regional and national staff of the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation as well as the Ministry of Agriculture, with geospatial techniques for mapping disease case data, and estimating spatially-explicit prevalence aimed at identifying high-risk areas. The training held from 30 May - 10 June 2022 provided participants with the theoretical background and hands-on training on tools necessary for understanding health event patterns.

Speaking to the benefit of the training, some residents said; “I am now confident to create different maps using QGIS and hope to cascade this training to others” - Binta Muhammed Bah, FETP Frontline Mentor

 “The training has been an eye-opener and has expanded my scope on how to apply GIS in maternal death recorded in districts and regions. This I believe will help improve the maternal death surveillance and analyze the data available". - Zainabu Juheh Bah, Maternal death focal person/ Ministry of Health and Sanitation

"The training was a good opportunity to learn about some ways of analyzing my data. The presentation on the concept of GIS and the various practical sessions will help me to generate maps that can be applied to my available data. Building concepts for spatial analysis has been something new that i learnt and will apply very well". - Gibrilla B. Timbo, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer/ EPI, Ministry of Health and Sanitation

Quantum Geographic Information System (QGIS) was the software used in data analysis, visualization and map creation. GIS is designed to collect, store, analyze, manage, and present all types of geographical data. The ability of the system to integrate and visualize non-spatial attribute information is the main strength of GIS. Participants learned  basic concepts of GIS mapping, spatial data preparations, basic map projections, basic spatial analysis and visualization and interpretation of disease maps (spot, buffer, and choropleth maps).

The focus of the training was to train health workers on the application of GIS in their daily work to improve their reports outputs with the help of a team of experts who developed the curriculum and the relevant training materials.