Deep learning and MCMC with aggVAE for shifting administrative boundaries: mapping malaria prevalence in Kenya

Elizaveta Semenova, Swapnil Mishra, Samir Bhatt, Seth Flaxman, H Juliette T Unwin

Research output: Working paperPreprint

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Model-based disease mapping remains a fundamental policy-informing tool in the fields of public health and disease surveillance. Hierarchical Bayesian models have emerged as the state-of-the-art approach for disease mapping since they are able to both capture structure in the data and robustly characterise uncertainty. When working with areal data, e.g.~aggregates at the administrative unit level such as district or province, current models rely on the adjacency structure of areal units to account for spatial correlations and perform shrinkage. The goal of disease surveillance systems is to track disease outcomes over time. This task is especially challenging in crisis situations which often lead to redrawn administrative boundaries, meaning that data collected before and after the crisis are no longer directly comparable. Moreover, the adjacency-based approach ignores the continuous nature of spatial processes and cannot solve the change-of-support problem, i.e.~when estimates are required to be produced at different administrative levels or levels of aggregation. We present a novel, practical, and easy to implement solution to solve these problems relying on a methodology combining deep generative modelling and fully Bayesian inference: we build on the recently proposed PriorVAE method able to encode spatial priors over small areas with variational autoencoders by encoding aggregates over administrative units. We map malaria prevalence in Kenya, a country in which administrative boundaries changed in 2010.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2023


  • cs.LG
  • stat.ML


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