Access to care following injury in Northern Malawi, a comparison of travel time estimates between Geographic Information System and community household reports

John Whitaker, Giulia Brunelli, Thomas P. Van Boeckel, Albert Dube , Abena S. Amoah , Rory F Rickard, Andrew J M Leather, Justine Davies

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Introduction: Injuries disproportionately impact low- and middle-income countries like Malawi. The Lancet Commission on Global Surgery's indicators include the population proportion accessing laparotomy and open fracture care, key trauma interventions, within two hours. The "Golden Hour" for receiving facility-based resuscitation also guides injury care system strengthening. Firstly, we estimated the proportion of the local population able to reach primary, secondary and tertiary facility care within two and one hours using Geographic Information System (GIS) analysis. Secondly, we compared community household-reported with GIS-estimated travel time.

Methods: Using information from a Health and Demographic Surveillance Site (Karonga, Malawi) on road network, facility location, and local staff-estimated travel speeds, we used a GIS-generated friction surface to calculate the shortest travel time from all households to each facility serving the population. We surveyed community households who reported travel time to their preferred, closest, government secondary and tertiary facilities. For recently injured community members, time to reach facility care was recorded. To assess the relationship between community household-reported travel time and GIS-estimated travel time, we used linear regression to generate a proportionality constant. To assess associations and agreement between injured patient-reported and GIS-estimated travel time, we used Kendall rank and Cohen's kappa tests.

Results: Using GIS, we estimated 79.1% of households could reach any secondary facility, 20.5% the government secondary facility, and 0% the government tertiary facility, within two hours. Only 28.2% could reach any secondary facility within one hour, 0% for the government secondary facility. Community household-reported travel time exceeded GIS-estimated travel time. The proportionality constant was 1.25 (95%CI 1.21-1.30) for the closest facility, 1.28 (95%CI 1.23-1.34) for the preferred facility, 1.45 (95%CI 1.33-1.58) for the government secondary facility, and 2.12 (95%CI 1.84-2.41) for tertiary care. Comparing injured patient-reported with GIS-estimated travel time, the correlation coefficient was 0.25 (SE 0.047) and Cohen's kappa was 0.15 (95%CI 0.078–0.23), suggesting poor agreement.

Discussion: Most households couldn't reach government secondary care within recognised thresholds indicating poor temporal access. Since GIS-estimated travel time was shorter than community-reported travel time, the true proportion may be lower still. GIS derived estimates of population emergency care access in similar contexts should be interpreted accordingly.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1690-1698
Issue number5
Early online date5 Feb 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Feb 2022


  • Emergenc Care
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Healthcare Systems
  • Wounds and Injuries


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