Background: Linking facility and household surveys through geographic methods is a popular technique to draw conclusions about the relationship between health services and population health outcomes at local levels. These methods are useful tools for measuring effective coverage and tracking progress towards Universal Health Coverage, but are understudied. This paper compares the appropriateness of several geospatial methods used for linking individuals (within displaced survey cluster locations) to their source of family planning (at undisplaced health facilities) at a national level. Methods: In Malawi, geographic methods linked a population health survey, rural clusters from the Woman’s Questionnaire of the 2015 Malawi Demographic and Health Survey (MDHS 2015), to Malawi’s national health facility census to understand the service environment where women receive family planning services. Individuals from MDHS 2015 clusters were linked to health facilities through four geographic methods: (i) closest facility, (ii) buffer (5 km), (iii) administrative boundary, and (iv) a newly described theoretical catchment area method. Results were compared across metrics to assess the number of unlinked clusters (data lost), the number of linkages per cluster (precision of linkage), and the number of women linked to their last source of modern contraceptive (appropriateness of linkage). Results: The closest facility and administrative boundary methods linked every cluster to at least one facility, while the 5-km buffer method left 288 clusters (35.3%) unlinked. The theoretical catchment area method linked all but one cluster to at least one facility (99.9% linked). Closest facility, 5-km buffer, administrative boundary, and catchment methods linked clusters to 1.0, 1.4, 21.1, and 3.3 facilities on average, respectively. Overall, the closest facility, 5-km buffer, administrative boundary, and catchment methods appropriately linked 64.8%, 51.9%, 97.5%, and 88.9% of women to their last source of modern contraceptive, respectively. Conclusions: Of the methods studied, the theoretical catchment area linking method loses a marginal amount of population data, links clusters to a relatively low number of facilities, and maintains a high level of appropriate linkages. This linking method is demonstrated at scale and can be used to link individuals to qualities of their service environments and better understand the pathways through which interventions impact health.
- Family planning
- Small area estimation
- Spatial linkage
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health