GIS and GPS training to NTD control programme staff in Liberia

GIS training for NTD control programme staff in Liberia

Dr. Jorge Cano Ortega, research fellow at GAHI, recently travelled to Monrovia, Liberia, to teach a course for programme officers in NTD control. He writes to describe the course, which focused on using GIS software and GPS devices.

3 April 2013

Dr. Jorge Cano Ortega is research fellow at the Global Atlas of Helminth Infections. He recently travelled to Monrovia, Liberia to lead our capacity-building work by teaching a course for programme officers in NTD control. He writes to describe the course and explain other available GAHI resources that are part of our capacity-building efforts.

The Global Atlas of Helminth Infections (GAHI) and the Centre for Neglected Tropical Diseases (CNTD) at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine recently organized a training course on geographic information systems (GIS) and global positioning systems (GPS) for Liberia NTD control programme staff that took place from 11 to 15 March 2013 at the World Health Organization (WHO) office in Monrovia.

Twenty participants from NTD control programmes and local stakeholders took part in both GIS and GPS sessions, with field workers, technicians and supervisors involved in data collection participating in the GPS training, and data and programme managers in the GIS training.

The GPS training was scheduled to fit into a general training of field workers in preparation for a second stage national mapping of soil-transmitted helminths and schistosome infections. The one-day course provided a sound working knowledge of the principles, functions and uses in public health of GPS receivers, and procedures for collecting positional data using the GARMIN eTrex GPS, which is the model currently used by Liberia programme staff in mapping surveys.

Jorge (first from left) and Liberian NTD control programme staff

The GIS training was carried out during the following three days and aimed to train participants to display geographical data, manage epidemiological data within a GIS framework and use geoprocessing tools to extract information based on spatial relationships. In this course, we used Quantum GIS (QGIS) software as it’s one of the most widely used and well-known open (i.e. free of charge) GIS software packages available. A set of practical handouts was prepared to conduct training sessions, beginning with an introductory practical on managing spatial data in QGIS and followed by others focused on the management and display of epidemiological data within a QGIS framework.

Using handheld GPS devices to position sampling sites is considered part of NTD mapping activities, particularly for schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminths and lymphatic filariasis. Although the use of these devices is well-known to most fieldworkers, questions remain about storing and downloading field data to an electronic database.

To address these questions, we have produced a manual with basic guidelines on using standard GPS receivers to collect geographical data about the position of survey locations, like villages, schools or households. These resources are already available in this website. 

We are committed to providing the necessary tools and skills to programme and data managers to properly manage the data obtained in NTD surveys, and we believe GIS software can be used to help understand the spatial distribution of NTDs. Therefore, we encourage the use of Open Source GIS applications in order to facilitate and make more accessible the production of NTD maps.

The positive feedback from Liberian training participants reminds us of the need to provide new tools to control programmes in endemic countries to control and eliminate NTDs, and encourages us to continue exploring new ways of delivering technical support.