Imagine driving a delivery truck without a map or any idea how long it will take to get to your destination. The drivers delivering health commodities in Ebonyi State, Nigeria were dealing with this very problem. Existing digital data for the road network contained information on travel speeds for five percent of the roads, and only half of the roads were mapped at all.
This lack of detail on the Ebonyi road network was a major roadblock for the USAID | DELIVER PROJECT. Without this information, it was difficult for logistics teams to estimate how long it would take to travel to facilities and thus how best to schedule deliveries. Additionally, because of the varying quality of roads and conditions between seasons, estimates of travel times and distances were unreliable. Recognizing the importance of addressing this issue, technical and program management teams on the USAID | DELIVER PROJECT put their heads together.
In this collaboration, the teams realized they already had access to the information they needed: in the GPS devices installed in all delivery trucks as a security mechanism. Having GPS coordinates means knowing the exact geographical latitude and longitude of a location, another critical component to streamlining logistics. During delivery runs, trucks with GPS security devices take GPS recordings during set regular intervals when in motion as well as every time the truck’s engine is turned off or started. Starting with the information automatically collected on the GPS devices during delivery runs, the team overlaid these data onto the existing road network data. They then created a new map that essentially “connected the dots” between the existing data and the new data. All that was needed were three GPS coordinates taken from the delivery truck per section of road to calculate an average travel speed. For roads where GPS data could not be collected, the project took information about the road quality (paved, gravel, or dirt), and the location of the road to estimate a travel speed based on similar roads in the nearby area. This method allowed for the doubling of the digital road network in the state.
Now, USAID | DELIVER PROJECT is using this road network and calculated travel speeds to plan delivery routes in Ebonyi State. Using the new digitized road network makes it possible to determine the most optimal route for each truck, reducing travel time and distance traveled. The best part about having this information is that the project staff can predict the day and time that the truck will arrive at each of the 200 health facilities in the state, reducing the chance for stockouts and making it easier for health facility staff to maintain their inventory.
The GPS data provided an additional benefit to the project: it helped confirm the GPS coordinates for 42 health facilities. By using time stamps taken by the GPS devices, Ebonyi State now has exact coordinates for 187 out of the 204 health facilities, and will soon have them for the remaining 17.
Using GPS data in this way is a strategy that could easily be adopted by other projects. The USAID |DELIVER PROJECT is currently working to make the digital road network maps available to the public. Making the road network maps and data available to other organizations or government entities working in Ebonyi State would provide the opportunity for them to use the information on travel speeds and road conditions to help streamline their programmatic logistics and delivery systems.
The USAID | DELIVER PROJECT innovates to streamline the process of getting products to patients as dependably and cost effectively as possible. Check back with the USAID | DELIVER PROJECT to learn more as we scale up our GPS mapping in other states of Nigeria, as well as in other partner countries to support USAID objectives and interventions.
**This article was originally published on April 15, 2014, by Global Health Africa.