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GIS research/volunteer in Uganda

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Mike H

Mike H

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I'm posting this for a fellow cartographer doing some volunteer work in Africa - he's looking for some ideas towards potential research opportunities in Africa. You can post to the list (please do!) but Rob doesn't follow the list - his direct email is at the end. Please cc Rob directly.

A brief bio on Rob Marin - did his masters in geography under Cindy Brewer at Santa Barbara in the early 90s, worked at Nat'l Geographic and Trails Illustrated as a cartographer, in recent years has been working as a travel writer and raft/kayak expedition leader, which has landed him in Africa. He is based in Idaho, USA.



Greetings fellow Geo-geeks,

I am currently in Jinja, Uganda, a district located at the source of the
Nile River, volunteering for a malaria education and prevention project,
which revolves around the dissemination of treated mosquito nets to
villagers--a strategy that is turning out to be incredibly effective in
reducing the incidence of infection among participants and others in their
communities. Believe it or not, the female anopheles mosquito almost
exclusively bites between 10 PM and the wee hours. In previous studies, the
use of nets was found not only to vastly reduce infection risk for users,
but also create a "halo effect," reducing cross-infection among residents
within 300 meters. Malaria is as big or bigger than AIDS here, and is the
biggest killer of children (30% of kids under 5 years of age).

I am writing to solicit advice / ideas for drumming up GIS and GPS software,
hardware and volunteer student-researchers to help support this project.

While doing follow-ups with participating villagers, it dawned on me that
data gathering for this project (used to monitor progress and justify
possible funding from the World Health Organization) lends itself perfectly
to collection by GPS, and the study of changes in malarial infection rates
over the region would make a fascinating (and, more importantly lifesaving)
GIS research project. Using an easily customized GPS data dictionary,
location and attribute data could be easily collected by existing volunteers
during education sessions and family follow-ups. What the project needs is :
a reasonably sophisitcates GPS unit, a copy of ArcGIS-Arcview, and an
ongoing, dedicated geography volunteer or two to process the data and
generate maps. Yes, that might include me.

Note: Volunteer involvement may be of particular interest to kayakers /
whitewater boaters as Jinja is home to the White Nile class V day run, one
of the finest big-water stretches anywhere (and yes, I've been out getting

The project is run under the auspices of Softpower, a small and very
localized NGO (also the sponsor of 20 new schools in the area), and
administered by Jessie Stone, an energetic American doctor (and world-class
kayaker). It is a direct-to-the-people, no-frills, no middle-man effort to
get Ugandan villagers to use understand malaria, use mosquito nets and seek
prompt and proper treatment. Softpower is also opening a malaria treatment
clinic in the Jinj district next week. The organization sells the nets and
provides treatment for a token fee (free nets and medicines tend to lead to
abuse). Every household I have visited over the last week has seen dramatic
reductions in malaria infection, especially in children. According to
Jessie, this has been the case with virtually every participating household
she has visited as well.

Given proper support and funding, this local effort could spread to all of
Uganda and beyond. But documenting, mapping and analyzing changes in
infection rates over time will be vital to promote major funding efforts and
to fully understand the effects of the program.

So, here's what I'm really asking: Do you know the best approach or specific
channels for getting GIS/GPS hardware and softwarre donated? We're not
talking much, here. Also, know any geography grad students (especially
whitewater enthusiasts!) looking for an exotic--but very
doable--thesis/dissertation topic involving tropical diseases? Or at least
students looking for a useful way to see Africa and literally help save

This is THE REAL Africa: friendly, beautiful, exciting--and challenged by
endemic disease and poverty. And there's also a great expat community here,
with some amazing parallel treatment underway on malarial treatments. The
place, despite the problems, is a really FUN place to be.

So send me your thoughts, or refer interested parties. I'm here 'til the end
of the month...


"Robert Marin" robcmarin@hotmail.com
Michael Hermann
mike [at] purplelizard.com




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One place to start: http://www.esri.com/grants/index.html

Dave Barnes
Map Geek

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