The New Times (Kigali)

13 November 2012

Africa: GIS Critical in Health Monitoring - Experts

Huye — Geo-information technologies are important in addressing health challenges on the African continent and across the world, experts have said.

The observation was made on Monday during the opening of a two-week course on the use of geo-information technology in addressing health issues.

The course, which attracted 20 participants from seven African countries, is organised by the Centre for Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing at the National University of Rwanda (CGIS-NUR), in collaboration with the University of Twente in the Netherlands and the Dutch Royal Tropical Institute (KIT).

The refresher course is being conducted under the theme: "Putting Health on the map: Addressing Public Health Challenges using Spatial Data and Geo-information Tools".

Speaking to The New Times, the CGIS-NUR director Dr Gaspard Rwanyiziri, noted that the course intends to equip participants with skills on how to use this technology to improve the health sector.

Using GIS technology, you can for instance map malaria-prone areas for policy makers to take informed action, he said.

Rwanyiziri said the course is designed for experts in GIS and those in the health sector who would work hand in hand to address the challenges affecting the public health in their respective countries.

Dr Sherif Amer from the University of Twente, observed that with GIS, health professionals can influence the progress of health surveillance and the geographic allocation of health resources and facilities.

He noted that GIS helps to inform proper understanding and leads to better decisions in the health sector.

He said the technology can help "identify areas where people have little access to health facilities and convince policymakers to set up dispensaries according to the needs.

He observed that the collection and dissemination of health information is essential for the improvement of the health sector, noting that GIS technology helps to get to that end.

In a message to participants, NUR Rector, Prof. Silas Lwakabamba stressed that the achievements in the economic sector goes with challenges to the health sector, but emphasised that it also offers solutions.

"The public health sector in Africa faces several challenges, some of which being caused by the steps taken in the road to economic growth", Lwakabamba said in his message.

"However, the achievements in this road carry also solutions to public health challenges.

"For instance, Geo-information technology has the potential to address health challenges by providing tools to analyse location-based data producing prescriptive and predictive information needed for informed decision making in public health management".

Participants at the course came from Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Tanzania.

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