WHO Libya Deployment: Lessons Learned and SBTF Feedback

On December 12th, 2011, Robert Colombo Llimona, a GIS Analyst
for the Vulnerability and Risk Analysis & Mapping (VRAM) 
inside the WHO Mediterranean Center for Health Risk Reduction (WMC) based in Tunisia contacted the SBTF, OSM and GISCorps to request support on a project related to the public health system in Libya. The purpose of the project was to get a final Health Facility Registry GIS layer for Libya, which would include the location type and name of the Health Facilities (HF) across the country along with their status. This was to be the starting point for providing a crucial service to the local community since the public health infrastructure was starting to get back “online” as it’s capacity was starting to increase again, which would benefit the entire community and citizens.

WHO was looking for datasets to try to compile a basic layer to start working with. Once this basic layer (which included the HF’s that were in place before the revolution and fighting) was going to be compiled, WHO could properly start their assessment of the actual public health situation in the field and identify which HF’s were still operational, which ones weren’t, and in doing so collect the statistical data to create a strategy of fast recovery for the national health system

There were already some datasets to start from:

•  Google map maker
•  WHO

Still there were some gaps in the layers and there was a need to identify and complete them.

WHO had two WHO staff already in Libya working on this specific project (collecting data, points, visiting places…) but they needed to be more precise in their approach, which is why they wanted to make sure we could gather all the existing, valid and original datasets.

The SBTF decided to start immediately a deployment and the following things where set up:

1) An application form for the volunteers to declare their availability

2) A Google spreadsheet with all the data already existing, possible sources and new sources founded by the volunteers

3) An endline survey for the volunteer to be checked on a daily bases and used to eventually change workflows and methodology according to the feedback gathered from the volunteers

The volunteers were coordinating all their efforts using a dedicated Skype Chat (standard operating procedure for SBTF deployments), and both the Skype Chat and the Application Form were shared with OSM in order not to duplicate efforts.

All the documentation necessary to inform volunteers on how to contribute to the effort was drafted and shared via the WHO Deployment Page created inside the SBTF Ning site:

The deployment run through the entire holiday period (December-January) and was paused for a couple of days to allow GIS Corps to clean and delete duplicate data  from the information found by the volunteers after the first 2 weeks of the deployment.

At the end of the deployment, when it was clear that no more information could be found on the web, the SBTF phased out of the deployment, giving way to the the second phase of the project: HOT/OSM created a web interface to allow anyone from Libya to add information missing on the health facilities founded by the volunteers, or to add new facilities not already inserted.

Of course this part of the project was particularly difficult because, as our collecgues in OSM state in their blog post on this project “We did have good contact with a number of interested Libyans, especially expat medical professionals. I think the call to participate must have gotten into the right channels. However, it was difficult to bring these folks in … being medical professionals, they’re really busy, mostly not in the same cities as us in the response, and not that familiar with mapping. They were super enthusiastic about the project, and for that I totally appreciate, and hope we can find a way to collaborate more as things develop.”

WHO has already described this project in detail in their guest  blog post here, so I will use this post to describe a bit more the SBTF’s involvement in this project and will share the comments, feedback, opinions of volunteers who participated in this novel public health deployment.

Overall the SBTF had 76 volunteers participating in the deployment, 12 of them from the OSM team, and most of those part of both SBTF and OSM networks.

The average amount of time spent daily by each SBTF volunteer on the deployment was 75 minutes, with some volunteers working 3 hours in a row and some no more than 10 minutes. In general the majority of the volunteers did around 1 hour a day.

The major problem that volunteers highlighted was related to the different spellings of the local locations and the difficulties in finding addresses on any available maps on line. This was frustrating and time consuming for volunteers – and gave our colleagues at GISCorps a lot of work vis-a-vis the data cleaning operation after the first two weeks of the deployment.

Thanks to the feedback and suggestions provided by SBTF volunteers, we were able to adapt and make changes to the deployment several times throughout the project life cycle. For example, we added a column for the phone numbers of individual facilities, another one for the web address, and another one with the status of that entry. We also added a dedicated page to compile all the useful sources found by the volunteers. This enabled others to do some cross-validation and verification.

Almost 90% of volunteers found the Skype Chat useful and a good way to ask questions, share information and learn about what others were doing and how. Some volunteers emphasized that they found the Skype Chat particularly important for the “spirit”. Being able to chat with each other while working was a definite plus and a form of ongoing encouragement.  The majority of the volunteers used the chat to get quick feedback on their questions and to get up to speed of what was most needed. Unfortunately, since the majority of the volunteers were based in the US, whom was in a different time zone, was left almost alone in the Skype Chat.

Lessons Learned:

  • The SBTF should have more coordinators in different time zones to make sure that all volunteers have a reference point;
  • The use of local volunteers needs to be increased at the earlier stages of the deployment if and where possible;
  • When working with local languages spelling issues and transliteration problems really do handicap the efforts of the volunteers to find accurate information. Guides or standard protocols needs to be created to minimize those risks;
  • Endline survey needs to become a standard protocol to make sure that all volunteers can anonymously report issues and problems on a daily bases and that the managers of the deployment gather feedbacks in a timely manner;
  • Having the activators in the skype chat with the volunteers was incredibly useful. Robert Colombo was supporting and coordinating the volunteers on a daily bases and this gave them also a very good understanding of the use of the data collected.

Double Activation of the Standby Task Force: WHO-Libya & OCHA-Colombia

The Standby Volunteer Task Force has just been activated by two major partners: the World Health Organization (WHO) in Libya and the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Colombia.

WHO-Libya: This activation is not in response to an acute emergency but rather related to preparedness and health system status in Libya. The goal of the project is to get a final Health Facility Registry GIS layer for Libya with the location type and name of the Health Centers across the country along with their status. This is an important step towards providing local communities with the crucial public health services they require.

To this end, our colleagues at WHO have been trying to compile a basic data layer of health facilities. This layer will include health facilities that were in place before the revolution. Once complete, WHO will use this data layer to carry out an assessment of the actual situation in the field to identify which health facilities are still operational and which ones aren’t. They plan to collect sufficient data to develop an appropriate strategy for rapid recovery of Libya’s public health system.

WHO has thus asked the SBTF and HOT/OSM to help them identify relevant information to create this basic data layer of health facilities. The deployment of the SBTF will continue through to January 15th, 2012. For this deployment the SBTF teams activated are the Task Team and the Geo-Location Team, but all volunteers are encouraged to participate. The work consists in doing web-based research, which means that SBTF volunteers need not have prior crisis mapping experience.

OCHA-Colombia: This activation is specifically for Spanish-speaking volunteers of the SBTF. The purpose is to support the UN’s efforts in mapping the impact of the floods and resulting needs. This information will be shared by other UN partners, various local and international NGOs and a number of government entities. The resulting information will constitute an important input for the decision-making process and for undertaking specific actions to support disaster-affected communities. Note that OCHA-Colombia will be managing this deployment and providing the necessary training.

This double-activation of the SBTF is a first for us, not to mention just days before the holiday period for many of our volunteers. As with other deployments, we’ll do our best to support our humanitarian partners and will take this as an opportunity to learn and improve our workflows. For a list of previous SBTF deployments, please see this link. To join the SBTF, simply follow this link.