Location is an important factor in population and health outcomes. Knowing the geospatial location of household survey clusters allows researchers to analyze the impact of location on peoples’ health, nutrition, and access to health care services. Geospatial data provide a clearer picture of where progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals is and is not being made at subnational levels.
The DHS Program has collected GPS coordinates for household survey clusters since 1996. To ensure respondent confidentiality and prevent positive identification (disclosure) of respondent locations, the GPS position of each urban cluster is displaced by up to two kilometers and up to 5-10 kilometers for rural clusters. This method of geomasking coordinates developed by The DHS Program is straightforward and has been widely accepted by analysts using DHS geospatial data. Nonetheless, there are legitimate concerns that urban points may be overly displaced, reducing the analytical usefulness of the geospatial data, and that some rural points may not be adequately displaced to ensure respondent confidentiality. In response, the spatial anonymization task force convened to explore more sophisticated methods of anonymizing geospatial data.
The task force developed and tested new population-based displacement tools on multiple DHS survey datasets. These tools use an area’s population to determine the minimum distance a cluster’s GPS position must be displaced. These new methods show promise over current spatial anonymization methods to better protect survey respondents while minimizing any adverse impact on analysis and continue to be explored using DHS datasets.
The task force also outlines immediate steps that can be taken to protect respondents. “Even without switching to a new population-based approach [to anonymize geospatial data], we should take steps to verify that we are within an acceptable level of disclosure risk and that our current anonymization objectives are being achieved,” explains Trinadh Dontamsetti, Lead, Geospatial Research. Standards in data protection and security have evolved—the European Union General Data Protection Regulation requires that personal data, including location data, be safeguarded. The task force recommends assessing the risk of disclosure. By quantifying and measuring spatial disclosure risk, the risk can be managed.
The DHS Program is hosting another Health Data Mapping online course on The DHS Program Learning Hub. The 12-week course focuses on the application of geographic information systems (GIS) in public health, specifically using maps for better program and policy decision making. Participants will be introduced to GIS concepts, manage and clean data in Microsoft Excel, and get a hands-on introduction to QGIS, an open-source GIS software package.
This course is for people who:
Have little to no GIS experience, but have an interest in learning QGIS and strong data skills.
Have at least an undergraduate degree in public health, demography, statistics, monitoring & evaluation, or a related subject, and basic training in statistics.
Currently work for government ministries, development partners, NGOs, or universities in the field of public health.
Can understand and communicate in English—the course will be conducted in English and participants will be expected to give presentations in English.
Have experience using Excel and have a computer that can run the latest stable release of QGIS.
The Health Data Mapping online course begins April 12 and ends July 3, 2021. Participants can expect to spend two to four hours a week working independently on self-paced lessons and completing assignments. Course facilitators will give feedback on assignments and answer questions on the course discussion forum and during periodic instructor-led virtual sessions.
Languages spoken: French, Spanish, a little Swahili, a word or two in Arabic, a touch of Portuguese
When did you start at The DHS Program? I was hired in 1999 as the first GIS Analyst after completing my master’s degree in Population Geography. The DHS Program at that time had just started collecting GPS data. I established the first protocol and manual for the collection of GPS data which remains part of the core survey methodology today.
I grew in that role until 2006. I wanted to learn more and be able to do more, so I went back to pursue my Doctorate in Public Health at Harvard School of Public Health. Following that, I became the Director of Research for the Center for Population and Development Studies at Harvard for five years before returning to The DHS Program in May 2019.
What is your role at The DHS Program? My role as Deputy Director is to translate all of our day to day survey work into the big picture in The DHS Program. Specifically, the country work falls under me, so I try to keep up-to-date on what’s happening in all the surveys all the time.
I also bring an outside perspective to the program. Having been away from The DHS Program for a number of years, I feel like I have a better perspective of what the community of DHS data users cares about and how people value and use the data, while at the same time understanding how the extraordinary work is achieved with all of our partners.
COVID-19 has affected all ongoing DHS surveys in one way or another. We have postponed a number of surveys that were supposed to take place this year, and we have shifted to virtual technical assistance where we can. The country demand for DHS surveys has not decreased, so I am closely monitoring when we will be able to resume field activities. For the latest updates on COVID-19 from The DHS Program, visit the new COVID-19 feature page.
What’s your favorite trip to date? One trip I enjoyed was to Cambodia in 2005. We had completed the 2005 Cambodia DHS and were in the planning stages for the next DHS survey. I traveled with Bernard Barrère, the previous Deputy Director. He was working on the new survey design, and I was teaching a workshop to staff from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Planning on using GIS to combine their health information system data with DHS to explore some of the findings in the DHS survey. Bernard and I took little motorcycles to dinner at a very nice French restaurant together. That’s a nice memory I have of the previous Deputy Director.
What work are you most proud of? Working with country counterparts to develop and carry out the surveys. I loved teaching workshops, seeing when participants get what you are trying to teach them. Capacity strengthening was always part of The DHS Program, but it has grown tremendously and is now a formalized effort through The DHS Program Learning Hub for instance.
What developments in data collection or global health, in general, are you excited about right now? Biomarkers. DHS surveys always collect data about people’s demographic and health histories, but there are many health conditions and risk factors that we can measure directly, such as testing for malaria, hemoglobin levels, micronutrients, and things we have yet to consider that can provide additional information to help us understand health and population change.