Participatory GIS in action, a public health initiative from Kerala, India
Community ownership is essential for sustainable public health initiatives. The advantages of getting active involvement of homebound village women in a public health campaign to establish community health surveillance are being reported in this paper. With the support of the local self government authorities, we had selected 120 village women, and they were given extensive training on various healthcare schemes, home based management of local ailments, leadership skills and survey techniques. Afterwards, they had been asked to share their knowledge with at least 10-15 women in their neighbourhood. This had improved their status in the neighbourhood, as more and more people started getting their advice on healthcare and social services related matters. Subsequently, they had collected the socio-demographic and morbidity details of the entire households, including the geometric coordinates (longitude and latitude) of the households and public offices. In this process, they began to use the geographic position system (GPS) machines, dismissing the myth that women are not that techno savvy, further improving their acceptability in the community. Many among them were seen proudly describing the implications of the thematic maps to the village people and line department staff in the monthly subcentre meetings. Many were offered seats in the local body elections by leading political parties, a few of them did stand in the elections and three of them had won the elections. This experience reinforces our belief that the empowerment of villagers with newer technology could be a public health tool with much wider positive implications.