National-level data about health and development hides subnational variation, making it very difficult to target interventions effectively. To gain insight into this variation and provide a detailed roadmap for future investments, the foundation funded the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) to produce maps showing levels and trends in a range of key indicators at a 5×5 km resolution.

The first of these, highlighting the change in educational attainment and rates of stunting and wasting in sub-Saharan Africa between 2000 and 2015, were published recently in Nature. (If you’d like to explore the maps, use IHME’s visualizer.) They revealed areas of significant progress, including Burkina Faso, which experienced a 15 percentage point reduction (from 42 percent to 27 percent) in stunting in the past decade. Similarly, they revealed areas where stunting is persistently high, including most of the Sahel region. Just as important, the maps showed lots of in-country disparities that point the way toward more precise interventions in the future. In Kenya, for example, rates of wasting nationally are 6 percent, but in some regions, the figure is as high as 28 percent.

In a companion piece to the studies, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote eloquently about making data a priority. “Data gaps undermine our ability to target resources, develop policies, and track accountability,” he said. “Without good data, we’re flying blind. If you can’t see it, you can’t solve it.”

The next priority involves translating this research into action. As a first step, IHME and its partners are now in the process of hosting webinars (a favorite ki tactic!) to describe the findings to leaders in African countries, develop plans to gather more data (especially since the IHME maps are modelled, not observed), and agree on strategies to use the data to address malnutrition at scale.