As COVID-19 cases in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province started to climb rapidly, the plight of vulnerable communities fell into the spotlight. Mittah Raditlhalo, a GIS specialist in Right to Care’s stra-tegic information unit, explains that, “In poor areas, population densi-ties are high, people live close together and use public transport. Social distancing is in some instances impossible. People here are more vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus and have less access to laboratory services and healthcare.” Right to Care is supporting the Department of Health (DOH) in Mpumalanga with its COVID-19 response.
Euginia Mashabane, project lead for community COVID screening and part of the DOH’s provincial COVID outbreak response, ex-plains, “We were not using GIS mapping, we did not have the capa-bility. We were collecting information and collating reports, but when following up cases, we found that phone numbers and physical ad-dresses were often incorrect. Because the pandemic was surging, it was a race against time.”
Raditlhalo continues, “We used GIS mapping and analytics for the deployment of screening teams to vulnerable areas, especially those in close proximity to COVID-19 hotspots. To achieve this, we devel-oped a social vulnerability index to prioritise communities and deploy field teams, guiding them to the areas where screening could be op-timised. Using our GIS tools, we identified vulnerable areas to pro-vide detailed information about people living there. We also provided detailed maps to show where screening teams and field guides were working and where they needed to go next.”
Mashabane says, “The maps showed us where the emerging hotspots were so we could respond decisively to target screening and focus on new cases. It would have been difficult to track the movement of the pandemic without this technical support.”
As a result of these interventions, districts were able to meet screen-ing targets and isolate the initial outbreak in the Ehlanzeni district.
“Without the support of Right to Care’s GIS specialists, we could have experienced double the amount of cases and deaths. Fortunate-ly, we didn’t come close to our predicted numbers of infections,” says Mashabane.
Raditlhalo adds, “The DOH involved community leaders who have responded positively to what was achieved. Other departments relied on the DOH for accurate information, which we were able to provide.”