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J Health Popul Nutr. 2007 Dec;25(4):436-47.

Development and management of a geographic information system for health research in a developing-country setting: a case study from Bangladesh.

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Center for Human Nutrition, Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.


In the last decade, geographic information systems (GIS) have become accessible to researchers in developing countries, yet guidance remains sparse for developing a GIS. Drawing on experience in developing a GIS for a large community trial in rural Bangladesh, six stages for constructing, maintaining, and using a GIS for health research purposes were outlined. The system contains 0.25 million landmarks, including 150,000 houses, in an area of 435 sq km with over 650,000 people. Assuming access to reasonably accurate paper boundary maps of the intended working area and the absence of pre-existing digital local-area maps, the six stages are: to (a) digitize and update existing paper maps, (b) join the digitized maps into a large-area map, (c) reference this large-area map to a geographic coordinate system, (d) insert location landmarks of interest, (e) maintain the GIS, and (f) link it to other research databases. These basic steps can produce a household-level, updated, scaleable GIS that can both enhance field efficiency and support epidemiologic analyses of demographic patterns, diseases, and health outcomes.

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