Objectives: The INDEPTH DSS network was founded in 1998 to provide an international network of field sites for continuous demographic evaluation of populations and their health. Results from the network have been used to derive estimates of mortality, morbidity and health equity. Spatial extrapolation and logical summaries of these findings are dependent on the network covering a representative sample of the environments in a region and their interrelationships being known. Here, we investigate how comprehensive is the coverage of the network of rural DSS sites in Africa in terms of the range of ecological zones found across the continent.
Methods: We used satellite imagery to define an environmental signature for each INDEPTH DSS site, and then calculate Euclidean distances from these signatures to the environmental signatures of every image pixel across Africa. These distances were then mapped and a gridded population surface used to mask uninhabited areas to illustrate the extent of the environmental coverage of the INDEPTH network. Environmental similarities between DSS sites were also calculated, hierarchically clustered and visualized as a dendrogram to examine between site relationships. Finally, an ecozonation of Africa was used to analyse the per-ecozone environmental similarity of the INDEPTH DSS network.
Results and conclusions: The current INDEPTH DSS network in Africa spans all the major environmental zones, but within these zones the environmental coverage of the network varies. These variations were mapped by ecozone. These maps provide valuable information in determining the confidence with which relationships derived from rural INDEPTH DSS sites can be extended to other areas. The results also indicate suites of sites that form environmentally cohesive groups and from which data can be logically summarized. Finally, the results highlight areas where the location of new INDEPTH DSS sites would increase significantly the environmental coverage of the network.