Category Archives: GIS

16 Nov

From National to Local: A New Way to Leverage DHS Data

In DHS survey final reports, data are presented on a national or first-level administrative sub-national level. However, this is usually not the level at which program planning and decision making are truly happening. To support more decentralized decision making at lower administrative levels, data need to be presented on a more disaggregated level.

The DHS Program is producing a standard set of spatially modeled map surfaces for each population-based survey for a select list of indicators that provide smaller area estimates of data. Geostatistics are used to predict (interpolate) the indicator value for unsampled areas based on data from sampled data locations. DHS creates standardized modeled map surfaces using DHS survey data along with global covariate datasets. Currently, sets of standard surfaces are available for 16 surveys. Spatial data packages and stand-alone maps are available for download through The DHS Program’s Spatial Data Repository.

How can modeled map surfaces be used?

These new spatially modeled surfaces can help in several ways to improve decision making for many development sectors that include health, population, nutrition, and water and sanitation programs on multiple levels. Users can combine the maps with other resources to support:

  1. Monitoring and evaluation: analysis and evaluation of past initiatives (impact analysis) or understanding existing situations
  2. Program planning: future planning of appropriate programs and policies

Data in the modeled surfaces can be used to evaluate past programs or to better understand existing situations. Such evaluations can help to understand deviations from the norm, attribute cause, or to contribute to impact evaluations, which analyze what would have happened to the population of an area if a program had not been implemented.

Program managers can also use modeled surfaces to plan, target, and develop interventions and programs that aim to improve situations in targeted geographic areas. Interventions can be targeted more precisely, saving money, time, and human resources in the search for the most effective outcomes.

The matrix below shows potential approaches for monitoring and evaluating past and planning future programs using modeled surfaces.

This matrix is by no means comprehensive, and it is expected that map users will come up with many more potential uses after analyzing their particular situation and maps for their country.

To read more, please see the Spatial Analysis Report 14, “Guidance for Use of The DHS Program Modeled Map Surfaces.” The report delivers more in-depth information on what modeled surfaces The DHS Program is creating, as well as an explanation of their creation process. In addition, the report provides guidance on limitations and assumptions.

The DHS Program is looking forward to seeing how groups will use this new data product to enhance their activities. There is enormous potential for innovative uses of these modeled surfaces beyond those discussed in the report. Users are encouraged to submit ideas and case studies to The DHS Program ( as only a large community of users who share their experiences will fully expose the maps’ potential.

Aileen Marshall is the Knowledge Management/Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist at The DHS Program. She is responsible for planning, development, implementation and evaluation of the KM strategy, KM activities as well as the project-wide SharePoint site. Additionally, she is involved in measuring and evaluating capacity strengthening activities at DHS and works closely with all teams to ensure knowledge at DHS is captured, stored and shared efficiently among staff. Aileen holds an MA in English Linguistics from the Westfaelische Wilhelms-University in Muenster, Germany, and an MLIS from the University of South Carolina.

Trinadh Dontamsetti is the Health Geographic Analyst for The DHS Program. He contributes to geospatial analysis, mapmaking, and geographic data processing activities. His research interests include geospatial interpolation, tuberculosis, and vector arthropod-borne diseases.


Clara R. Burgert is the GIS Coordinator for The DHS Program. She oversees all  geographic data, mapping, and geospatial analysis activities at The DHS Program.  Additionally, she facilitates workshops in partner countries on using maps for better decision making using open source GIS software.






14 Sep

Reflections from Accra: A Look Back at the Regional Health Data Mapping Workshop

Group of participants and facilitators at the conclusion of the workshop

In August, The DHS Program Geospatial Team was in Accra, Ghana, hosting this year’s Regional Health Data Mapping Workshop to teach participants how to use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for public health decision-making and program planning. Participants, most of whom had never before used GIS in any capacity, learned the steps necessary to turn data from a table into a thematic map, working both together and independently to create maps and practice presenting them.

The workshop began with a review of Microsoft Excel techniques for cleaning and preparing indicator data to be used in a GIS software (for this workshop, the QGIS platform), which can often have very particular requirements for such data.  Once the data was cleared of errors and special characters, participants learned how to import this indicator data into a GIS and combine it with geographic data – stored in the form of a shapefile, which is a unique version of file type specifically used to store geographic information – merging the indicator data of a particular region or district to the shape of that area in the map.  Participants were then taught how to colorize the map appropriately, showing the difference between areas, emphasizing regions with higher or lower prevalence with intuitive color schemes, and overall making a visually appealing map.

Participants work in QGIS during a hands-on practice session

After completing four days’ worth of exercises and making maps under the guidance of the facilitators, participants had the opportunity to make their own maps from start to finish on the fifth day. Participants independently prepared these maps using their own program data or data from The DHS Program Spatial Data Repository. Each person had three minutes to present their map to the group and receive feedback on what worked well and identify areas for improvement. This allowed the participants to practice speaking about and presenting a map – an intangible but equally important skill.

Map made by one of the participants, using DHS data from Liberia

Map made by one of the participants, using DHS data from Liberia

While the workshop was focused on teaching participants the skills they needed to use GIS as part of their work, it also stressed the notion that participants would take these skills and knowledge gained in Accra back to their home countries and offices and pass on this information to their coworkers. We hope participants found this workshop to be informative, practical, and not least enjoyable!

Stay tuned for our final blog post, where we will be highlighting one participant in particular! Read the previous blog post in this series here.

For those who did not attend this workshop, The DHS Program offers numerous spatial data and GIS resources that can be used to self-teach. If you are interested in participating in future workshops, follow us on social media or sign up for our email alerts.










27 Jul

Connecting GIS and Public Health: 2016 Regional Health Data Mapping Workshop

Participants from Kenya and Zambia discussing their hand drawn maps.

In August, The DHS Program Geospatial team is hosting this year’s Regional Health Data Mapping Workshop in Accra, Ghana. The workshop will focus on the application of Geographic Information System (GIS) in public health, specifically using maps for better program and policy decisionmaking. This will be a basic workshop that introduces participants to data concepts including management and cleaning of data in Microsoft Excel, introduction to GIS concepts (including GPS data collection), using maps as part of the decisionmaking process, and hands-on introduction to QGIS, an open source GIS software package.

Participant from Zambia working on a 3-D data visualization activity.

We are excited to share mapmaking skills with a new group of participants! From finalizing the venue, selecting participants, and preparing the curriculum, we are working hard to organize everything for the workshop. Selecting the workshop participants was the most difficult part of the process so far but in the end, 20 participants were accepted out of the 600 that applied!

In 2015, we hosted a similar workshop in East Africa and also had over 600 applicants for 20 spots. We believe this continued show of interest indicates how important a skill mapmaking is, and the great need for this skill in the health sector across the world. The workshop curriculum facilitates learning these skills via guided activities, group work, and hands-on software activities where participants get to show off their hard work!

This year’s workshop specifically targets West African countries (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo) and two others, Chad and Egypt, where The DHS Program has recently done or will soon be doing a household survey.

Applicants didn’t need to be experts in GIS to be selected – in fact, we preferred that they weren’t! We wanted applicants with little to no GIS experience, though certainly sought those with an interest in learning and strong data skills. In our selection, we focused on individuals with current positions within government ministries, development partners, and local universities. We hope that participants use their newfound health mapping skills to improve the use of DHS data and other data for decisionmaking in their home countries, and also to teach others in their home offices.

Participants from Tanzania practicing GPS data collection skills.

Even individuals who do not attend the workshop can still benefit from the learning of those who do and also from self-taught learning through our many mapmaking and data analysis-related resources at The DHS Program. These include the Spatial Data Repository, STATcompiler, Spatial Analysis Reports, and video tutorials.

I will be co-facilitating the workshop, so stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on how it all went!

18 Nov

GIS Day 2015

I love maps! They are a great way to understand and visualize data, especially when you are looking to understand how place might influence certain health behaviors or outcomes. Luckily, I spend my days here at The DHS Program preparing data for maps, making maps, talking about maps, teaching others to make maps, and thinking of new ways to share maps with the whole world.  The good news is that you don’t have to be a Geographic Information System (GIS) professional to appreciate or even make your own maps using DHS data.

gis day 1

STATcompiler is a great tool that can allow you to visualize DHS data in many ways including via maps. These maps can be seen both at the national and sub-national level, and allow for various customizations including colors and number of categories.

gis day 3The Spatial Data Repository (SDR) is also a tool that can be used by non-GIS professionals to view maps and DHS geographic information. The boundaries page allows anyone to visualize the change in sub-national borders between various surveys. This can be very useful for analysts, survey planners, and individuals interested in sub-national trends over time.

For a full view, please visit 

The gallery page has maps that have been created by The DHS Program and others using DHS data. Maps located in the gallery are tagged in different ways so that you can find the topic or countries you are most interested in. These maps are created for specific reports, presentations, or other activities. Recently, we created a series of interactive maps as an online supplement to the Spatial Analysis Report 12 Report. These maps allow viewers to explore the report data more in depth and click on a country region to see more information for the indicator selected.

You too can participate in the online map gallery: create an original map using at least some DHS Program data (either downloaded from the SDR or data created using other resources), and submit the map to Static maps (JPG, PDF, etc.) or interactive web maps/apps are welcome. We will review your map and if appropriate for inclusion on SDR, we will contact you to get your permission to upload it to the site.

Happy GIS Day 2015! Now go make a map or go look at some maps!

22 Jul

Linking DHS Data with Health Facility Data: Opportunities and Challenges

For 30 years, The DHS Program has asked women hundreds of questions about their utilization of various health care services, including family planning, antenatal and delivery care, vaccination and treatment of sick children, malaria treatment, and HIV prevention and treatment. In 1999, The DHS Program started collecting facility-level data through the Service Provision Assessment (SPA) survey. The SPA interviews providers and clients, takes stock of facility supplies and equipment, and observes provider-client consultations.  



Many people hoped that the two datasets would be easy to link for a deeper understanding of how people access services, the quality of services, and the association between access to services and health outcomes in a given country.  And because most recent DHS and SPA surveys are geo-coded (DHS since 2000 and SPA since 2009), that is, clusters and facilities are identified with their latitude and longitude, linking the data through a geographic information system should be easy, right?

Several studies have looked at using geospatial analysis to link DHS and SPA data to answer these larger questions about access to and utilization of health care services.  There are several challenges to this type of linkage. A major concern is sampling: the DHS and SPA surveys have different sampling frames and are rarely conducted in the same year. Most SPAs are samples of the health care facilities in the country, not a census. Many individuals surveyed in a DHS likely visit some of the health facilities that were not selected for the SPA. So just because a woman’s cluster is closest to a certain facility included in the SPA does not mean that that is the facility the woman visits.

CaseSTudy_figure_CropIn addition, to protect the identity of respondents, the GPS locations of DHS cluster points are geo-masked. In densely populated areas, this means that clusters may be moved away from their closest health facilities, making linkage based on geographic location less accurate. There’s also a practical concern: the DHS does not ask where individuals receive health care but rather only the type of facility where they sought care. While some people probably use their closest health facility, this is not always the case.  People may choose health facilities based on quality, specialty, cost, or anonymity, not just proximity.

SAR10Despite the challenges there have been several successful analyses linking DHS and SPA data, and program managers and researchers continue to explore the best use cases for DHS-SPA linkage.  This will be the topic of our upcoming DHS webinar on July 28th, “Considerations when Linking DHS Household Data to Data on Health Facilities and Infrastructure.”  Clara Burgert, The DHS Program’s GIS Coordinator and author of the recently released Spatial Analysis Report “Linking DHS Household and SPA Facility Surveys: Data Considerations and Geospatial Methods”  will be making a presentation on the DHS-SPA linkage opportunities and challenges.  Interested participants can register for the webinar here, and are encouraged to read SAR10 and post discussion questions for Clara and her co-authors on The DHS Program User Forum here.

Update: This webinar event has ended. Please visit this feed on The DHS Program User Forum for the presentation, discussion, and additional resources.

19 Nov

GIS Resources at The DHS Program


By Clara Burgert

The first DHS survey to use geographic location data was the 1996 Benin DHS. At that time, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Day didn’t even exist (it was first started in 1999)! But over the years, we’ve collected location data in more and more surveys—over 120 to date. Our offerings in terms of GIS tools for understanding the data we’ve collected have also become richer. These data serve the important role of helping us to understand the linkage between health behavior or outcomes and physical location.

One of the key GIS tools that The DHS Program has created is the Spatial Data Repository (SDR). The Spatial Data Repository provides geographically-linked health and demographic data from The DHS Program and the U.S. Census Bureau for mapping in a GIS.  The SDR has gone through many iterations before it arrived at its present design. Originally, the site was just a host for users to download .zip packages of information. When we launched the current SDR last year, it had been completely redesigned to include several new functionalities, including the Boundaries page, which allows users to take a look at ways in which boundaries have changed over time in DHS surveys. The SDR is one of the first USAID-funded sites that is fully open data, that is, any user can go to the site and download information for free, without having to go through a process of registration or requesting.

As of September this year, the SDR has added even more resources. The boundary page has a comparison page, and we’ve added more maps and search functions to the SDR Gallery, where users can peruse maps that were created from the SDR data. Users can submit their own maps, and they may also be featured on the site.

We’ve also created several video tutorials that explain more about how to use GIS resources (and three SDR-specific videos) at DHS.

Be it today for GIS Day or any day of the year, The DHS Program GIS resources are available to assist you in visualizing and analyzing DHS data.





The information provided on this Web site is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.

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