Editor's note: This article is re-printed from W&M News.
AidData, a research lab at William & Mary’s Institute for the Theory & Practice of International Relations, has received $2.95 million in funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development to support a health-focused open geospatial data center in the country of Côte d’Ivoire.
The funding comes to AidData via the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. Côte d’Ivoire has one of the highest rates of HIV in the West Africa region.
“We are working to precisely track HIV/AIDS to help ensure those with the disease receive the attention and services they need,” said Harsh Desai, one of the AidData program managers on the project. “Our work will have real-world benefits, which is very rewarding.”
The new project is designed to enhance the use of data by the government of Côte d’Ivoire and others, including civil society organizations and local communities, while empowering local ownership and leadership of data-driven, innovative solutions.
“Helping the government better target resources will be a significant win in combating the disease,” said Kathy Nolan, another AidData program manager on the project. Nolan will coordinate a Geospatial Impact Evaluation, a pioneering research technique that leverages satellite imagery, georeferenced survey and administrative data and machine learning tools to determine a development program’s real impact.
In addition, two Ivorian Fellows will be hosted at William & Mary this summer and fall, where they will be trained in spatial analysis.
“We’re undertaking a peer-to-peer learning approach to train the visiting researchers on spatial analysis methods to answer critical policy and program analysis questions,” said Nolan.
Upon their return to Côte d’Ivoire, the Fellows will work with local partners to assist with the analysis of data collected on the country’s HIV/AIDS program.
“The training the Ivorian researchers receive in geospatial impact evaluation methods while at William & Mary will allow them to train others, helping ensure the skills and methods acquired are shared well beyond the life of the project,” said Nolan.
In close collaboration with USAID country team, non-governmental organizations and the government of Cote d’Ivoire through the Ministry of Health, AidData will implement the project over two years.
According to Desai, an additional benefit is student engagement.
“This project integrates faculty and students, and will produce a research multiplier effect,” he said. “One of my students, a Kinesiology major, is currently interning at the State Department and working on global health issues. As part of her work at State, she is supporting this project. So it’s a nice example of students gaining skills at AidData, and then using them in a policy position in D.C.”
Throughout the project, AidData and its partners will also secure upgrades to Information Technology infrastructure and hardware as needed in the field in order to facilitate wider data access and use in decision-making.
“It’s exciting to think how AidData and William & Mary can extend our work overseas and help respond to the needs of both decision-makers and citizens in countries where this kind of assistance has a large impact,” said Nolan.
For USAID Côte d’Ivoire’s Strategic Information Team leader Etien Luc Koua, “this is an important GIS innovation project for our PEPFAR program to help control the epidemic. Offering greater detail at the community level through this kind of visualization and mapping platform will help us better reach populations in need of HIV services.”
Koua added that the project also serves as a “contribution to the promotion of the use of open data by the government of Cote d’Ivoire.”