During a three-week field practicum in South Sudan, Loma Linda University School of Public Health student Ms. Diane Garcia-Gonzales advised a team of local individuals who were assessing health care facilities in the state of Warrap. Her activities were part of a Loma Linda University project in the country to create a geospatial information system that integrates environmental and socioeconomic data with the capabilities and locations of health- and community-based facilities.
The team was surveying health clinics for information such as staffing, the availability of medication, condition of buildings and medical equipment, referral capacity, and specific types of health care services provided.
"Very few facilities had much to work with," said Ms. Garcia-Gonzales, who describes some of the clinics as no more than a table under a tree.
Loma Linda is part of a consortium carrying out the Southern Sudan Health, Nutrition, and Empowerment program, funded with $50 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The lead organization on the grant is the nonprofit Adventist Development and Relief Agency International (ADRA), and the goal is to improve health, nutrition, and empowerment for women and children under age 5.
"All of these health facilities were just packed," said Ms. Garcia-Gonzales.
Landing in the capital of Juba for preparatory work, Ms. Garcia-Gonzales then traveled far north to areas largely inaccessible and strife-ridden.
"I thought I was prepared for what I’d see, but I definitely was underprepared even with as much studying and research as I did," she said. "The conditions were extremely harsh, and it was just an overall very tough region to be in. There were a lot of very hungry people, and the resources even for the humanitarian workers were minimal."
As technical adviser for the field surveyors, Ms. Garcia-Gonzales solved issues such as difficulties they were experiencing with their GPS units.
After the fieldwork, Ms. Garcia-Gonzales spent more time in Juba digitizing the collected data and integrating the GPS coordinates and photos of the facilities. Now, during her final quarter of coursework, she is completing data analysis.
The results will guide ADRA in distributing funds and resources to improve health care in Warrap. Another state, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, is also being surveyed. The geospatial database Loma Linda is creating will additionally integrate data collected by ADRA and fellow collaborators at Johns Hopkins University that will also address issues of food security and empowerment for women and young children.
Poverty levels, agricultural capabilities, geography, and demographics will be integrated along with information such as airfields, major roads, and administrative boundaries.
[Photo: Ms. Diane Garcia-Gonzales washes her hands in a water pump in the capital of Juba. As she visited the northern reaches of the country, conditions deteriorated significantly. Much of the remote region she visited was a swampy flood land where residents live in mud and thatch huts.]