bacterial water testing, Google Earth, ethnographic study, anthropology, GPS


Background: A remote sensing technique was developed which combines a Geographic Information System (GIS); Google Earth, and Microsoft Excel to identify home locations for a random sample of households in rural Haiti. The method was used to select homes for ethnographic and water quality research in a region of rural Haiti located within 9 km of a local hospital and source of health education in Deschapelles, Haiti. The technique does not require access to governmental records or ground based surveys to collect household location data and can be performed in a rapid, cost-effective manner.

Methods: The random selection of households and the location of these households during field surveys were accomplished using GIS, Google Earth, Microsoft Excel, and handheld Garmin GPSmap 76CSx GPS units. Homes were identified and mapped in Google Earth, exported to ArcMap 10.0, and a random list of homes was generated using Microsoft Excel which was then loaded onto handheld GPS units for field location. The development and use of a remote sensing method was essential to the selection and location of random households.

Results: A total of 537 homes initially were mapped and a randomized subset of 96 was identified as potential survey locations. Over 96% of the homes mapped using Google Earth imagery were correctly identified as occupied dwellings. Only 3.6% of the occupants of mapped homes visited declined to be interviewed. 16.4% of the homes visited were not occupied at the time of the visit due to work away from the home or market days. A total of 55 households were located using this method during the 10 days of fieldwork in May and June of 2012.

Conclusions: The method used to generate and field locate random homes for surveys and water sampling was an effective means of selecting random households in a rural environment lacking geolocation infrastructure. The success rate for locating households using a handheld GPS was excellent and only rarely was local knowledge required to identify and locate households. This method provides an important technique that can be applied to other developing countries where a randomized study design is needed but infrastructure is lacking to implement more traditional participant selection methods.