Malagasy-Led Study Advances Innovative Methods For Understanding Geographic Access To Health Care

Members of the PIVOT team trek to the village of Ambalapaiso, which is located 13 kilometers from the nearest health facility.

 

With more than three and a half billion people lacking access to essential health services, most countries around the globe, including Madagascar, have renewed their commitment to Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

One of the most challenging barriers to achieving UHC in Madagascar is geography, where 60% of the population lives more than 5 kilometers from the nearest health facility. Surprisingly, however, the geography of health access remains poorly understood. Health systems, facility locations, and community health programs are designed with limited understanding of the real geographic barriers to care. Climate, waterways, land use, terrain, and physical distance are all central to determining whether a sick child receives care or a pregnant woman delivers at a facility.

So how can we update modern analytics to break down geographic barriers to care?

A new study led by PIVOT researcher Dr. Felana Ihantamala, also a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School, has achieved a very precise understanding of local geographic accessibility to health care in Ifanadiana District, Madagascar. The study includes establishing estimates of distance to care for every single household in the area in order to support the programs that deliver health care to remote populations. Beyond improving the precision of previous methods for assessing geographical accessibility, the study has made all the results available for operational use in the field by PIVOT staff and other local health actors in the region via interactive e-health tools.

Recently published in the International Journal of Health Geographics, the study provides a comprehensive picture of the geographic challenges faced by the population to reach the health services they need, be it from the nearest health center or community health worker.

(You can access the full study HERE.)

Dr. Ihantamalala, a health geographer by training, recognizes that, “to optimize local interventions, a very precise understanding of the local geography is necessary to identify populations with poor geographic accessibility to health facilities, to plan field missions, or set up itineraries for community health workers that are doing proactive care, and outreach teams involved in [mobile] vaccination campaigns.”

(Learn more about Felana in her spotlight profile, HERE.)

However, implementation efforts are currently limited by a lack of basic geographic information (e.g. footpaths, residential areas, households) in most rural areas of Madagascar. To solve this in Ifanadiana District, PIVOT partnered with the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement to complete a participatory mapping exercise that ultimately identified more than 100,000 buildings, 5,000 residential areas, 13,000 hectares of rice paddies, and a network of nearly 15,000 miles of footpaths.

Through remote sensing work and GPS measurements, our team is now able to generate accurate estimates of travel time between virtually any two points in the district. To facilitate the operational use of the results of this research by healthcare providers and programmatic teams, the research team developed a web application that is available on PIVOT’s new research dashboard. Beyond this, field workers can also generate accurate directions to any point in Ifanadiana District without internet access (which is scarce throughout the region) using the free “OSMAnd” app on smartphones and tablets.

(Check out the dashboard for yourself, HERE.)

Besides its scientific relevance, this study has contributed to local research capacity-building. PIVOT Associate Scientific Director and senior author of the article, Dr. Andrés Garchitorena, adds that “this work was possible thanks to the contribution of three Malagasy master’s students in GIS and remote sensing who did their thesis on this project, and to several ‘mapathons’ organized at the University of Fianarantsoa and with members of the OpenStreetMap community.”

We know that this type of locally-led scientific approach to solve context-specific barriers to health care can be key tools for achieving UHC in rural areas of the developing world, and look forward to the direct impact that this study will have on PIVOT’s program design and outcomes.



  • Molecular Diagnostics

    Pivot has partnered with the Ministry of Public Health and Centre ValBio to develop the first molecular diagnostics laboratory for COVID-19 outside of the capital city.  We additionally have partnered with the Pasteur Institute of Madagascar on novel analysis of dried blood spots from I-HOPE survey for serological analysis of measles, malaria, schistosomiasis, Hep B, and COVID-19.

     

    Learn more: 

    Integrating Health Systems and Science to Respond to COVID-19 in a Model District of Madagascar, Rakotonanahary, R.J.L., et al., 2021, Frontiers in Public Health

    Reconciling model predictions with low reported cases of COVID-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa: Insights from Madagascar, Evans, M.V., et al., 2020, Global Health Action

  • Eco-Epidemiological Surveillance

    We collate environmental surveillance data (e.g. vector surveillance) with biomarkers from household surveys (e.g. rapid tests and antibody tests from dried blood spots of participants in the I-HOPE household survey) to inform the spatio-temporal dynamics of infectious diseases.

     

    Learn more:

    Estimating the local spatio‐temporal distribution of malaria from routine health information systems in areas of low health care access and reporting, Hyde, E, et al., 2021, International Journal of Health Geographics

    Reconciling model predictions with low reported cases of COVID-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa: Insights from Madagascar, Evans, M.V., et al., 2020, Global Health Action

  • GIS (geographical)

    We use a participatory approach to map over 20,000 kilometers of footpaths and 100,000 structures. These data have been combined with high resolution data on land cover, a digital elevation model, rainfall data, and geolocated data from the IHOPE cohort (see above). These data are used to determine travel times to health care, measure geographic equity, and study geospatial determinants of disease. Accessibility modeling results are available on an e-health platform developed with R Shiny.

  • IHOPE (household-level longitudinal cohort)

    The Ifanadiana Health Outcomes and Prosperity longitudinal Evaluation (IHOPE) cohort was established in 2014 at the start of Pivot’s work in Ifanadiana District. Modeled after Demographic and Health Surveys, it tracks standard international health, demographic, and socioeconomic indicators. IHOPE has the following combination of characteristics that are novel for localized interventions:

    • True baseline
    • True representative sample
    • Sample from inside and outside of the initial catchment population
    • Collection by third party professionals at the National Institute of Statistics who collect identical data nationally
    • Tracks same individuals over time
    • Includes biomarkers such as dried blood spots used for molecular analyses

     

    Learn more: 

    Baseline Population Health Conditions Ahead of a Health System Strengthening Program in Rural Madagascar, Miller, A., et al. 2017, Global Health Action

  • HMIS and Routine M&E

    Health management information systems (HMIS) collect information on health system utilization and care provision at public sector facilities. These data are combined with additional, routine monitoring and evaluation (M&E) data to track over 1000 indicators of health system performance in Ifanadiana District, including rates of treatment and service utilization, quality of care, supply stock-outs, and human resource capacity at every level. These data are accessible via a real-time dashboard.

  • Capacity-Building

    The purpose of Pivot Science is to improve health outcomes over the long-term. Central to this goal is a new capacity building program, which focuses on both increasing research skills among clinicians/implementers, as well as helping researchers better understand and inform clinical priorities. The training includes a series of workshops on understanding clinical priorities, developing research questions, methodology, and dissemination. Trainees include a range of personnel who work within Madagascar’s health sector.

  • COVID-19 and Molecular Diagnostics

    The majority of deaths in Madagascar are due to infectious diseases and most cases go undiagnosed. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need to implement new diagnostic assays in rural health districts. Pivot has partnered with the Ministry of Public Health and Centre ValBio to develop the first molecular diagnostics laboratory for COVID-19 outside of the capital city, which provides both diagnostic capacity as well as a platform for scientific innovation at the intersection of biomedicine and planetary health.

     

    Learn more: 

    Integrating Health Systems and Science to Respond to COVID-19 in a Model District of Madagascar, Rakotonanahary, R.J.L., et al., 2021, Frontiers in Public Health

    Reconciling model predictions with low reported cases of COVID-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa: Insights from Madagascar, Evans, M.V., et al., 2020, Global Health Action

  • Eco-Epidemiology & Surveillance

    There have been major advances in the science of infectious disease dynamics. But there is inadequate application of these advances at local scales to inform health interventions. We combine environmental information, spatially granular health system data, and population surveys, with mathematical models to understand and forecast local disease dynamics (such as malaria, measles, schistosomiasis, lymphatic filariasis and diarrheal disease) to improve service delivery. 

     

    Learn more:

    Estimating the local spatio‐temporal distribution of malaria from routine health information systems in areas of low health care access and reporting, Hyde, E, et al., 2021, International Journal of Health Geographics

    Reconciling model predictions with low reported cases of COVID-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa: Insights from Madagascar, Evans, M.V., et al., 2020, Global Health Action

    Towards elimination of lymphatic filariasis in southeastern Madagascar: Successes and challenges for interrupting transmission, Garchitorena, A., et al., 2018, PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases

  • Operational Research for UHC

    Operational research provides insights into how programs are implemented with an emphasis on quality and fidelity to organizational, national, and international standards. Our operational research priority areas include UHC financing, health care quality, patient satisfaction, and health worker performance. This is a high priority area for growth across clinical and data teams at Pivot. 

     

    Learn more:

    Evaluation of a novel approach to community health care delivery in Ifanadiana District, Madagascar, Razafinjato, B., et al., 2020, medRxiv

    Rapid response to a measles outbreak in Ifanadiana District, Madagascar, Finnegan, K.E., et al., 2020 medRxiv

    Networks of Care in Rural Madagascar for Achieving Universal Health Coverage in Ifanadiana District, Cordier, L.F., 2020, Health Systems & Reform

    In Madagascar, Use Of Health Care Services Increased When Fees Were Removed: Lessons For Universal Health Coverage, Garchitorena, A., et al., 2017, Health Affairs

  • Geography & Community Health

    We are advancing new methods that combine granular health system data with a massive GIS dataset containing over 100,000 structures and 15,000 miles of footpaths in the district. This is used to identify geographic barriers and improve the design of the health system to reach everyone. To overcome geographic barriers, we have piloted a model of proactive community health for Madagascar, and are evaluating its impact and feasibility.

     

    Learn more:

    Estimating the local spatio‐temporal distribution of malaria from routine health information systems in areas of low health care access and reporting, Hyde, E, et al., 2021, International Journal of Health Geographics

    Improving geographical accessibility modeling for operational use by local health actors, Ihantamalala, F.A, et al., 2020, International Journal of Health Geographics

    Evaluation of a novel approach to community health care delivery in Ifanadiana District, Madagascar, Razafinjato, B., et al., 2020, medRxiv

  • Population-Level Impact Evaluation

    We measure the impact of our work through the analysis of a district-representative longitudinal cohort. Our quasi-experimental design allows for some of the most rigorously evaluated analysis of health systems change on population health in Africa. These analyses show improvements in nearly every major health indicator, including infant mortality, under-five mortality, vaccine coverage, access to and quality of health care services, and health equity.

     

    Learn more:

    District-level health system strengthening for universal health coverage: evidence from a longitudinal cohort study in rural Madagascar, 2014-2018, Garchitorena, A., et al. 2020, BMJ Global Health

    Early changes in intervention coverage and mortality rates following the implementation of an integrated health system intervention in Madagascar, Garchitorena, A., et al. 2018, BMJ Global Health

    Assessing trends in the content of maternal and child care following a health system strengthening initiative in rural Madagascar: A longitudinal cohort study, Ezran, C., et al. 2019, PLOS Medicine

    Baseline Population Health Conditions Ahead of a Health System Strengthening Program in Rural Madagascar, Miller, A., et al. 2017, Global Health Action

  • Data Systems

    PIVOT is fully integrated with Madagascar’s Health Management information System. By combining many kinds of data – outcomes, programmatic, geographic and more – we gain insights to inform our approaches in an ongoing improvement cycle.

  • Quality of Care

    Care is of no use to our patients’ health unless it is high-quality. We focus on bringing the best possible care to all levels of the health system, whether offered at a patient’s doorstep, at health centers, or at the hospital.

  • Supply Chain & Equipment

    Constant collaboration and integration with Madagascar’s national supply chain helps maintain adequate stocks of more than 40 essential medicines and supplies across all levels of care while steadily closing the gaps on stockout rates and saving lives.

  • Finance

    PIVOT is working with the government’s National Health Solidarity Fund to create a transparent system for patients, providers, donors, and government officials, building on success in removing financial barriers to care through patient reimbursements.

  • HR & Recruitment

    Skilled, well trained and compassionate people are the most vital components of any health system. To meet the unusual challenge of a setting where posting may be truly remote, PIVOT teamed up with the Ministry of Public Health to design and implement a joint recruitment and retention strategy.

  • Infrastructure

    A public health system needs dignified and durable spaces – a difficult task in a mountainous rainforest environment. The district’s most remote facilities are a priority, where partnership with local communities and contractors ensure that rehabilitated spaces are maintained over time.

  • Emergency Transport

    74% of the people in Ifanadiana District live more than a 5-kilometer walk to the nearest health center. Our district-wide public ambulance referral system is the only one of its kind in Madagascar, operating 24/7 since 2014 to bring urgent cases in for treatment at no cost to the patient.

  • Patient Accompaniment

    PIVOT accompagnateurs welcome people into a system that may be unfamiliar. They explain the process, assist in navigating the system,address the need for food and lodging when needed, and check on the kids back home. This service, along with the improved availability and quality of care, has helped quadruple the use of outpatient health services in Pivot’s catchment area.

  • Maternal Health

    Our programs successfully address high rates of maternal deaths among the women in Ifanadiana District, who give birth an average of seven times during their reproductive lifetime, with four in every five deliveries occurring at home. In the first two years of fully supported obstetric services, access to family planning, and facility-based deliveries, the maternal mortality rate dropped by 20%.

  • Malnutrition

    More than half of the children under 5 in Madagascar are chronically malnourished. We are piloting a national program in Ifanadiana District that combines screening, treatment, and prevention across all levels of the health system to address this major cause of child mortality.

  • Tuberculosis

    TB is so prevalent in Madagascar that there are an estimated 500 new cases in our district every year, most undetected and untreated. In partnership with the National Tuberculosis Program,  we launched a program to control TB in 2017 to upgrade basic resources and capacity, and to ensure that diagnosis and treatment are available in Ifanadiana District.

  • Child Health

    Children under 5 are those most likely to die from preventable causes like malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea. We implement protocols for the Integrated Management of Childhood Illness to guide health workers in diagnosis and treatment and to assess nutrition and vaccine status in low-resource settings.