Role of Spatial Tools in Public Health Policymaking of Bangladesh: Opportunities and Challenges
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In spite of the increasing efforts to gather spatial data in developing countries, the use of maps is mostly for visualization of health indicators rather than informed decision-making. Various spatial tools can aid policymakers to allocate resources effectively, predict patterns in communicable or infectious diseases, and provide insights into geographical factors which are associated with utilization or adequacy of health services. In Bangladesh, the launch of District Health Information System 2, along with recent efforts to gather spatial data of facilities location, provides an interesting opportunity to study the current landscape and the potential barriers in advancing the use of spatial tools for informed decision making. This study assessed the current level of map usage and spatial tools for health sector planning in Bangladesh, focusing on investigating why map usage and spatial tools remained at a basic level for the purpose of health policy. The study design involved in-depth interviews, followed by an expert survey (n = 39) obtained through snowball sampling. Our survey revealed that assessing areas with shortage of community health workers emerged as the top most for basic map usage or primarily for visualization purpose, while planning for emergency and obstetric care services, and disease mapping was the most frequent category for intermediate and advanced map usage, respectively. Furthermore, we found lack of inter-institutional collaboration, lack of continuous availability of trained personnel, and lack of awareness on the use of geographic information system (GIS) as a decision-making tool as three most critical barriers in the current landscape. Our findings highlight the barriers in increasing the adoption of spatial tools for health policymaking and planning in Bangladesh.