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Published: June 27, 2012
Blanford J, et al. “It’s a long, long walk: accessibility to hospitals, maternity and integrated health centers in Niger.Int J Health Geogr, 2012 June 27, 11:24.

Restricted access to health care and seasonal conditions present higher risk of mortality in Niger

Researchers at The Pennsylvania State University GeoVISTA Center, and at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, have done a study which highlights critical areas in Niger where health services/facilities are lacking and may need to be improved using realistic travel time estimates to represent access times during seasonal variations.

The people of Niger are exposed to a wide variety of diseases that occur both during the wet and dry seasons (i.e. polio, measles, cholera, malaria). Access to health service can help reduce the impact of diseases that may be controlled through medicines or vaccinations. Using GIS researchers analyzed the physical access of populations to health facilities within Niger with an emphasis on the effect of seasonal conditions and the impact in terms of availability of adequate health services, and delivery of drugs and vaccinations.

Justine Blanford, lead author and Research Associate at the GeoVISTA Center in the Department of Geography at The Pennsylvania State University states, “We forget how easy it is to access health care in countries with a good transport network and fast, efficient year round access. Timely access in countries with under-developed infrastructures can be highly dependent on seasonal weather patterns. In Niger a mother wishing to take her sick infant to the hospital might be within 6 hours of a health facility in the dry season but might have to face a 9-hour journey in the wet season as travel conditions deteriorate. Our study highlights the importance of taking infrastructure, mode of travel, and seasonality into account when planning vaccination campaigns and the location of a new health facility.”

This study found that there is substantial geographic variation in accessibility to health facilities in Niger and the differences are not just obvious ones between the sparsely populated northern desert region with few roads but that variation exists in the populated south as well. Analysis determined that the population served by health facilities will be overestimated if assessed without consideration of seasonal differences in travel impediments. Therefore, effects of seasonality should be factored in the distribution of health services.

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This work was supported by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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