n Moshi, Tanzania, hard-hit by AIDS, researchers are using detailed aerial photographs and global positioning system receivers to locate study subjects in a maze of houses without addresses and streets without names.
The project, a health program for children, families, and communities within Moshi by Harvard Medical School’s Children’s Health and Social Ecology (CHASE) program, seeks to improve children’s health and slow the spread of AIDS by increasing community awareness of the threats the children face.
AIDS leaves many children orphaned and many more living in households where a single parent struggles to raise multiple children. The proliferation of AIDS orphans across Africa has stressed traditional social safety nets that would have provided care for the children within their extended families. Today, instead, many children must find their way on the streets.
Making the lot of those children safer is the goal of CHASE’s principal investigators, Mary Carlson, associate professor of psychiatry, and Felton Earls, professor of social medicine at Harvard Medical School and professor of human behavior and development at the Harvard School of Public Health.
They’re doing that by applying lessons learned in a long-running investigation of Chicago’s neighborhoods, where they found that community engagement, not race or income, was the best predictor of patterns of social ills such as crime and violence.
Earls said that using the tools of geospatial analysis, researchers can collect data from specific locations, combine it in geographic information systems (GIS) software, analyze it, and map it in ways that can make important patterns easily apparent.
“It really is hypothesis generating,” Earls said. “It helps you come up with and focus your hypothesis testing.”