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Three little words creating a safer community

Written by Sulaiman Philip
KwaNdengezi, outside Durban, is a community of 54 000. It is a collection of brick buildings and self-built homes of zinc sheeting, recycled bricks and wood. Roads do not have names and unless you live in the sprawling 14km² township, it is easy to get lost.

The mapping service has helped medical services reach remote areas. (Photo: what3words)As Thembinkosi Lesley Dladla, an Emergency Management Rescue Services (EMRS) shift supervisor, explains: “As an EMRS [officer], my work doesn’t have any boundaries – we work the whole of Durban. It’s very difficult in the townships, because they don’t have road names written, and they also don’t

have house numbers.”

Ambulances can take hours to reach patients. Often a whole day will pass before an ambulance can find patients. They, as well as community health workers, have to rely on residents to give them directions. For the community, descriptive directions are the easiest ways to navigate the chaotic streets of the township.

Making use of global mapping

A local health NGO, Gateway Health Institute, is piloting a project in KwaNdengezi that will map the entire township. For the first time residents will have an address they can use when calling for medical help.

The NGO is using what3words, a global online mapping system, to create unique addresses for the township. The system breaks the globe into a grid of 57 trillion 3m x 3m squares. Each has a pre-assigned and fixed three-word address.

Gateway’s fieldworkers helped residents identify their locations on a satellite map and then printed their three-word addresses on plastic signs that were attached to their homes. The addresses are registered in a database, and the NGO is able to identify what medical services are needed where.

The mapping service has helped to increase the number of pregnant women receiving home visit antenatal care. When medical help is needed it can be dispatched to a mapped location and ambulance crews know where to go to provide life-saving assistance.

Beyond providing addresses to homes in KwaNdengezi, Gateway is also working with the Kwazulu-Natal Department of Health mapping community assets such as local government centres, clinics and pumps that provide clean drinking water. The aim is to build a detailed map for the residents that can be used by businesses and the government to improve the lives of the community.

The project was begun by Dr Coenie Louw, founder and director of Gateway.

Addressing a problem

Gateway runs community health services in disadvantaged communities across the country. The most important medical services it offers are delivery of medicines and emergency transport for women in labour: 50 per cent of births in KwaNdengezi take place at home. Before the project began an ambulance could take up to four hours to reach a woman in distress.

At first, Louw tried using phone masts to triangulate locations. “I spent two years trying to find a way to actually pinpoint the location of a pregnant woman in distress.”

The project is also being used to alleviate unemployment in the township — 11 previously unemployed youngsters were trained as fieldworkers to help residents identify their addresses and to help load location and health information on Gateway’s database.

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