15.2. Importing coordinates

Step 1 - Simplify/generalize your geographical data

The boundaries in geographical data files are usually very accurate, too much so for the needs of a web-based GIS. This usually does not affect the performance when using GIS files on a local system, but it is usually necessary to optimize the geographical data for the web-based GIS system of DHIS2. All geographical data needs to be downloaded from the server and rendered in a browser, so if the data is overly complex, the performance of the DHIS2 GIS will be negatively impacted. This optimization process can be described as follows:

Coordinates: The number of significant decimal digits (e.g. 23.02937874993774) should be shortened to fewer digits (e.g. 23.03). Although this will result in some inaccuracies on the map, given the usual scale at which maps in DHIS2 are produced (> 1:50,000), the loss of precision should not be noticeable. Normally, no more than four significant digits after the decimal point should be necessary.
Polygons: In addition to shortening the number of significant digits, the actual number of points should also be reduced to an optimal level. Finding this optimal level may take a bit of experimentation. Decreasing the precision of the points as well as the number of points through generalization, will lead to degradation of the polygon. However, after a bit of experimentation, an optimal level of generalization can be found, where the accuracy of the polygon is visually acceptable, and the performance of the GIS is optimal.

For polygons, we need to make the boundary lines less detailed by removing some of the line points. Make a backup of your shapefiles before you start. One possible method is the use of MapShaper which is an online tool which can be used to generalize geographical data. To use MapShaper, simply upload your shapefile to the site. Then, at the center bottom you see a slider that starts at 0%. It is usually acceptable to drag it up to about 80%. In the left menu you can check "show original lines" to compare the result and you may want to give a different simplification method a try. When you are happy with the result, click "export" in the top right corner. Then check the first of the four options called "Shapefile - polygons", click "create" and wait for the download buttons to appear. Now, download the two files to your local computer and overwrite the existing ones. Move on to the next step with your new simplified shapefile.

Step 2 - Convert the shapefile to GML

The recommended tool for geographical format conversions is called "ogr2ogr". This should be available for most Linux distributions sudo apt-get install gdal-bin. For Windows, go to http://fwtools.maptools.org/ and download "FWTools", install it and open up the FWTools command shell. During the format conversion we also want to ensure that the output has the correct coordinate projection (called EPSG:4326 with geographic longitude and latitude). For a more detailed reference of geographic coordinates, please refer to this site. If you have already reprojected the geographic data to the geographic latitude/longitude (EPSG:4326) system, there is no need to explicitly define the output coordinate system, assuming that ogr2ogr can determine the input spatial reference system. Note that most shapefiles are using the EPSG:4326 system. You can determine the spatial reference system by executing the following command.

ogrinfo -al -so filename.shp

Assuming that the projection is reported to be EPSG:27700 by ogrinfo, we can transform it to EPSG:4326 by executing the following command.

ogr2ogr -s_srs EPSG:27700 -t_srs EPSG:4326 -f GML filename.gml filename.shp 

If the geographic data is already in EPSG:4326, you can simply transform the shapefile to GML by executing the following command.

ogr2ogr -f GML filename.gml filename.shp

You will find the created GML file in the same folder as the shapefile.

Step 3 - Prepare the GML file

Unfortunately, the GML file is not ready for importation yet. Open it in a robust text editor like Geany (Linux) or Notepad++ (Windows). GML is an XML based format which means that you will recognize the regular XML tag hierarchy. In the GML file an organisation unit is represented as a <gml:featureMember>. Inside the feature members we usually find a lot of attributes, but we are just going to import their coordinates.

In order to import geospatial data from the feature members of the GML input, DHIS2 must match each of them with an organisation unit in its database. The feature member element must, in other words, contain a reference to its corresponding organisation unit. The reference itself must be one of three possible DHIS2 identifiers: uid, code or name. The identifier of choice must be provided as a property for each feature member element. The importer will look for a property with the local name of either Uid, Code or Name, e.g. "ogr:Name" or "anyPrefix:Code".

If your feature members already contain a property of the identifier you wish to use (such as the name of an area) you can use search and replace in a text editor to rename these elements to a name DHIS2 will recognize (see the below table). This is typically a workflow which is applicable when using the name as the identifier (the source shapefile or even GML will usually contain the name for each area it defines).

Table 15.1. Organisation unit identifiers supported for GML import

Matching priorityIdentifierValid spellingsGuaranteed unique
1Uiduid, Uid, UIDYes
2Codecode, Code, CODENo
3Namename, Name, NAMENo


In the case of renaming properties one would usually find a tag named something like "ogr:DISTRICT_NAME", "ogr:NAME_1" and rename it to "ogr:Name". If using the code or uid identifiers on the other hand, looking up the correct values in the DHIS2 database and going through the GML file, adding the properties for each corresponding feature member might be necessary. In any of the cases it is important to realize that the identifier used must uniquely identify an organisation unit (e.g. if there are two organisation units in the database of the same name or code, these cannot be matched properly on either). As uid is the only guaranteed-to-be-unque identifier it is the most robust choice. However, as matching on name is usually easier (given that the name is already part of your data), a viable approach to solving uniqueness conflicts can be to match any non-uniquely named organisation units on a different identifier (uid, preferrably) and the rest on their names.

As can be seen in the above table there is a matching priority, meaning is any two or more identifiers are provided for the same feature member, matching will be performed on the highest priority identifier. Note also the valid properties which can be used in you GML. The namespace prefix is not important as only the local name is used.

A common pitfall of performing preparation of the GML files is syntax- or element naming errors. Therefore please make sure that all properties of the GML file are started and terminated with correctly corresponding tags. Also make sure the properties follow either of the given valid spellings of the property name. The identifying properties are supposed to look like e.g. <ogr:Name>Moyamba District</ogr:Name>, <somePrefix:uid>x7uuia898nJ</somePrefix:uid> or <CODE>OU_12345</CODE>. Another common error is not making sure the identifier matches exactly, especially when using the name property. All matches are performed on exact values, meaning that "Moyamba" in a source GML file would not be matched against "Moyamba District" in the database.

Have a brief look at the identifiers and compare them to the corresponding values in the database. If they seem to match fairly good, it is about time to do a preview in the import-export module.

Go to Services -> Import-Export, select "Preview", select the GML file and click "Import". Look for new/updated organisation units. Our intention is to add coordinates to already existing organisation units in the database, so we want as many updates as possible and 0 new. Those listed as new will be created as root units and mess up the organisation unit trees in DHIS2. If any listed as new, click the number and the organisation units in question will appear in the list below. If there are any slight misspellings compared to the organisation unit names in the database - fix them and do the preview again. Otherwise, click the "discard all" button below the list and then the "Import all" button above the list.

If the import process completes successfully, you should now be able to utilize the geographical data in the DHIS2 GIS. If not, check the log for hints and look for common errors such as:

- Name duplicates in the GML file. The name column in the database is unique and does not accept two organisation units with the same name.

- The "shortname" column in the organisationunit table in your database has a too small varchar definition. Increase it to 100.

- Special name characters in the GML file. Be sure to convert these to appropriate XML equivalents or escape sequences.

- Wrongly formatted input GML, non-matching tags