Formalising a vital partnership in Sierra Leone

July 15, 2021

On 23 May, Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation and GRID3 signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that formalised a partnership that has already made important progress in the country’s drive to accurately map its health facilities. 

Chief among the partnership’s objectives is the improvement of a geo-referenced master list of health facilities, which aids understanding of the spatial distribution of facilities and supports decision-making around resource distribution and service delivery, among other benefits. The advances made in the quality and scope of Sierra Leone’s health facility data are helping to support the country’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign by allowing policymakers to monitor and respond to outbreaks, and will have significant long-term outcomes, including the public release of the master list, further improvement of maps of health catchment areas, and capacity strengthening around geospatial data for ministry staff. The MoU will govern the partnership through December 2022.

“Development data should always be shaped by stakeholders, for stakeholders ”

says Marc Levy, Director of GRID3.

“By formalising our partnership with the ministry, we can better ensure that GRID3’s data is tailored specifically to the needs of Sierra Leone’s communities.” 

This milestone comes a year after GRID3 began supporting the ministry’s health facility mapping efforts. During a series of meetings with government officials in January 2020, GRID3 learned that the Directorate of Planning, Policy, and Information (DPPI, the body within the ministry responsible for the country’s tabular and geospatial health data) had ambitions to update and harmonise the country’s geo-referenced master health facility list. GRID3 was asked to provide technical support to complete that list and has since worked in conjunction with DPPI and other partners to analyse and refine existing data, as well as collect new data. 

The first step was to analyse the health facility data that DPPI and implementing partners had collected over the last four years. Following exploratory data analyses on each of the existing datasets, GRID3 performed basic cleaning on the attribute data and spatial cleaning of the latitude and longitude fields. GRID3 spatially matched these existing data to DPPI’s 2020 master list and gave confidence rankings for each point. Gaps in the data (either missing or unvalidated GPS coordinates for facilities) were identified, and GRID3 subsequently met with DPPI and its partners on a regular basis to address these gaps and other work around the master list. 

The partnership has succeeded in spatially matching 1,203 of 1,392 facilities to the master list, 1,038 of which are high confidence (i.e. at least two independent datasets confirming location). Data for missing and unconfirmed points was completed in early July. Among other outcomes, an authoritative master list will be a crucial tool in the country’s current COVID-19 vaccination drive.   

“The master facility list is the most robust and important resource we have on the country’s health facilities,”

says Francis Smart, Director of Planning and Information at the Ministry of Health and Sanitation.

“It provides a crucial baseline and reference point for health systems, strengthening information on essential health services such as disease prevention, outbreak response, and disease control. With the uncertainties that exist around COVID-19, it’s important that Sierra Leone’s baseline health data be as reliable as possible.”

The ministry and GRID3 intend to convene a health facility data validation workshop at the end of July (in compliance with international and local guidance on COVID-19); subsequently, the data will be published and integrated into other ministry initiatives. The partnership’s work around health facilities will provide a foundation for further collaboration, and the partners are in the early stages of planning efforts for the COVAX initiative, identifying strategies to improve mapping of health catchment areas and of community health workers, as well as investigating opportunities for GRID3 to support other directorates within the ministry.

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