Linking the global positioning system (GPS) to a personal digital assisstant (PDA) to support tuberculosis control in South Africa: A pilot study

Barry Dwolatzky, Estelle Trengove, Helen Struthers, James A. McIntyre, Neil A. Martinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Background: Tuberculosis (TB) is the leading clinical manifestation of HIV infection and caseloads continue to increase in high HIV prevalence settings. TB treatment is prolonged and treatment interruption has serious individual and public health consequences. We assessed the feasibility of using a handheld computing device programmed with customised software and linked to a GPS receiver, to assist TB control programmes to trace patients who interrupt treatment in areas without useful street maps. In this proof of concept study, we compared the time taken to re-find a home comparing given residential addresses with a customised personalised digital assistant linked to a global positioning system (PDA/GPS) device. Additionally, we assessed the feasibility of using aerial photographs to locate homes. Results: The study took place in two communities in Greater Johannesburg, South Africa: Wheillers Farm, a relatively sparsely populated informal settlement, and a portion of Alexandra, an urban township with densely populated informal settlements. Ten participants in each community were asked to locate their homes on aerial photographs. Nine from Wheillers Farm and six from Alexandra were able to identify their homes. The total time taken by a research assistant, unfamiliar with the area, to locate 10 homes in each community using the given addresses was compared with the total time taken by a community volunteer with half an hour of training to locate the same homes using the device. Time taken to locate the ten households was reduced by 20% and 50% in each community respectively using the PDA/GPS device. Conclusion: In this pilot study we show that it is feasible to use a simple PDA/GPS device to locate the homes of patients. We found that in densely populated informal settlements, GPS technology is more accurate than aerial photos in identifying homes and more efficient than addresses provided by participants. Research assessing issues of, confidentiality and cost effectiveness would have to be undertaken before implementing PDA/GPS - based technology for this application. However, this PDA/GPS device could be used to reduce part of the burden on TB control programs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number34
JournalInternational Journal of Health Geographics
StatePublished - Aug 16 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Computer Science
  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • General Medicine


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