The value and potential of geographic information system – or GIS, “the science of where” – has become even more obvious this year as the world responds to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, it has been used to map the spread of COVID-19 across space and over time, identify hotspots, vulnerable populations and areas that are marginalised from accessing both routine and specialised healthcare.
The science consists of a framework for gathering, analysing and visualising spatial data for better decision-making. For example, it may show the shortest route to a health facility from an accident scene. It could identify the hotspots of an epidemic or inform where best to target anti-smoking or anti-crime campaigns.
Geographic information system is one of the components of geospatial technologies, along with satellite navigation systems, earth observation and other emerging technologies. They have had a big impact by enabling very accurate positioning and provision of satellite imagery.
They’ve also been used to infer patterns and spatial relationships in countless applications, such as forest fires and urbanisation.
Organisations and individuals in Kenya have taken advantage of geographic information system to gain spatial insights on COVID-19 to inform decision making and responses. They can show where the vulnerable populations and active cases are, where to find care, and where there are resource gaps. They also build a picture of the pandemic over time.
One analysis by Kenyan health economist and financing researcher Edwine Barasa and colleagues revealed significant gaps in the capacity of hospitals to handle a potential surge in the early phases of the pandemic. In the same analysis they showed that only 22% of Kenya’s population lived within two hours of a facility with an intensive care unit.