Travel time to health facilities in areas of outbreak potential: maps for guiding local preparedness and response

Published December 30, 2019, in BMC Medicine (opens in a new window)


Repeated outbreaks of emerging pathogens underscore the need for preparedness plans to prevent, detect, and respond. As countries develop and improve National Action Plans for Health Security, addressing subnational variation in preparedness is increasingly important. One facet of preparedness and mitigating disease transmission is health facility accessibility, linking infected persons with health systems and vice versa. Where potential patients can access care, local facilities must ensure they can appropriately diagnose, treat, and contain disease spread to prevent secondary transmission; where patients cannot readily access facilities, alternate plans must be developed. Here, we use travel time to link facilities and populations at risk of viral hemorrhagic fevers (VHFs) and identify spatial variation in these respective preparedness demands.

Methods and findings

We used geospatial resources of travel friction, pathogen environmental suitability, and health facilities to determine facility accessibility of any at-risk location within a country. We considered in-country and cross-border movements of exposed populations and highlighted vulnerable populations where current facilities are inaccessible and new infrastructure would reduce travel times. We developed profiles for 43 African countries. Resulting maps demonstrate gaps in health facility accessibility and highlight facilities closest to areas at risk for VHF spillover. For instance, in the Central African Republic, we identified travel times of over 24 hours to access a health facility. Some countries had more uniformly short travel times, such as Nigeria, although regional disparities exist. For some populations, including many in Botswana, access to areas at risk for VHF nationally was low but proximity to suitable spillover areas in bordering countries was high. Additional analyses provide insights for considering future resource allocation. We provide a contemporary use case for these analyses for the ongoing Ebola outbreak.


These maps demonstrate the use of geospatial analytics for subnational preparedness, identifying facilities close to at-risk populations for prioritizing readiness to detect, treat, and respond to cases and highlighting where gaps in health facility accessibility exist. We identified cross-border threats for VHF exposure and demonstrate an opportunity to improve preparedness activities through the use of precision public health methods and data-driven insights for resource allocation as part of a country’s preparedness plans.

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Hulland EN, Wiens KE, Shirude S, Morgan JD, Bertozzi-Villa A, Farag TH, Fullman N, Kraemer MUG, Miller-Petrie MK, Gupta V, Reiner RC, Rabinowitz P, Wasserheit JN, Bell BP, Hay SI, Weiss DJ, Pigott DM. Travel time to health facilities in areas of outbreak potential: maps for guiding local preparedness and response. BMC Medicine. 30 December 2019. doi:10.1186/s12916-019-1459-6.


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