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How data visualization is helping health ministers in Central America target intervention programmes


The Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama (INCAP) was founded in 1949. Its mission is to support the Ministries of Health of the Central American isthmus states and the Dominica Republic in the areas of food and nutrition security,and ultimately help improve nutritional status through evidence based-interventions in each local population. INCAP’s headquarters are located in Guatemala City; however, it has offices in each of its member States: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Dominican Republic.

data presentation software for displaying regional health and nutrition information

Screenshot: Regional Atlas of Central America and Dominican Republic

We spoke to German Rafael González Díaz who works in the Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Unit at INCAP to find out how data presentation software has been used by INCAP. German explains that displaying health and nutrition information is an important part of their team´s work. Although INCAP´s main function is not the production of crude data, it supports institutions and groups in the collection of good quality data. In most cases INCAP´s team collects official information from each country related to determinants and consequences of malnutrition, as well as other variables that can be used to analyse the nutritional status of the Central American population. In other words, they need to provide intelligence information that can be used for the performance analysis of nutrition programmes. This means monitoring a large number of indicators that can be easily displayed for use of variety of users.

data presentation software for displaying regional health and nutrition information

Screenshot: Guatemala Atlas of Food and Nutrition

German had tried a number of ways of doing this before he came across InstantAtlas. He realised that InstantAtlas would help to display data, such as obesity rates, undernutrition, poverty, services coverage, socioeconomic inequalities, etc, across each of the countries in Central America in a friendly and easy-to-understand format.

Getting started

Setting up the reports was not difficult, according to German. “I found that InstantAtlas is easy to use and we didn’t have to go through too many processes to have our indicators and data displayed! You can get everything sorted out in just a few clicks,” he says. “The big issue was getting the data at community level because it isn’t available for some indicators.”

Meeting the need

The reports are being used by health ministry officials in Central America who need information to help them make decisions about health improvement initiatives in their countries. German says they have found the reports very useful and have been using the insight it gives them to focus their programmes. “It gives health ministers the capacity to attend to the problems of nutrition and health,” says German.

The fact that our information is immediately available online at any time is instrumental in our policy discussions. Officials of the different countries find it helpful to see their own country data for internal analysis as well as to make comparisons among member states, which is crucial in a region that is trying to integrate and coordinate policies

data presentation software for displaying regional health and nutrition information

Screenshot: Nicaragua Atlas of Food and Nutrition

Future developments

German believes that the reports have been a success for INCAP and the health ministers are keen on expanding the use of InstantAtlas. They want to see more reports using other indicators. German says that the double-mapping option is something he is keen to explore as well as adding other indicators.

“An interesting and useful function in the geographic analysis is the one that allows the correlation of indicators, for example the geographic analysis of poverty explaining the occurrence of chronic malnutrition, or the one in which one can show the lack of correlation between nutritional status of the municipal population and the share of budget assigned to social improvements in the same geographic area. We foresee that the option of performance analysis will be useful for the monitoring of progress in our indicators across time.”

data presentation software for displaying regional health and nutrition information

Screenshot: El Salvador Atlas of Food and Nutrition

Key benefits

  • InstantAtlas is easy-to-use and the results have enabled INCAP to present data in a meaningful way
  • Health ministers are using the intelligence to ensure intervention programmes have the correct focus
  • INCAP is meeting its objectives by supporting the health ministers

See other country example reports

Costa_Rica_Report  Nicaragua_Report  El Salvador_Report

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