Partner: Addressing inequality with what3words and Gateway Health Institute

gateway-healthThe Gateway Health Institute is a leading NGO in South Africa, providing healthcare and community services to disadvantaged areas. They run programs to deliver medicine, supply emergency transport for women in labour, and identify hot spots for human rights abuses. However, many of these programs have encountered difficulties due to a lack of reliable addressing.

Help where it’s needed most

With a focus on health and human rights, The Gateway Health Institute are committed to making a positive impact on the lives of those in hard to reach and vulnerable populations.

Gateway Health runs essential community programs in the country’s townships and informal settlements. They help to deliver medicine, supply emergency transport for women in labour, map the location of clinics and health facilities, and even identify hot spots for human rights abuses.

No address, no rights

Operating under such circumstances will always represent a challenge. However, the organisation has repeatedly encountered one specific issue that threatens to bring entire projects to a standstill.

Hundreds of thousands of people in South Africa live in informal settlements which lack reliable addressing. This inability to define a location – of homes, businesses and properties – means people are essentially invisible to the system. They struggle to access basic utilities, amenities or receive medical care. In particular, pregnant women who experience difficulties during labour are unable to get help, as midwives can’t find them, and many die in childbirth.


3 words to improve lives

With poor addressing playing such a critical role in the success of their projects, Gateway had no choice but to find a viable alternative. And what3words has proved the perfect solution.

what3words is a global addressing system. It has divided the world into a grid of 3m x 3m squares and assigned each one a unique 3 word address. It provides a precise and incredibly simple way to talk about location. And it means everyone and everywhere now has an address.

A community connected

Gateway has begun piloting the use of 3 word addresses in KwaNdengezi, a poor informal settlement on the outskirts of Durban. A key part of the project is training unemployed young people who live in the settlement to search for a 3 word address via the free what3words app, and provide it to residents.


Following this simple training, they take what they have learned out to the homes in the settlement. Here, they help residents locate and record the unique 3 word address of their own property, with both a paper copy and, optionally, a digital registration in a database. The database uses USSD technology – an easy to use technology that works on any kind of mobile phone and does not require internet. It enables even more rapid response when requesting emergency services or reporting service delivery failures.

Even if residents do not have a smartphone, they can simply refer to this address – which never changes – when they need to communicate their location. They are also advised to keep a copy of their unique 3 word address in a safe place. Many expectant mothers, for example, choose to keep it in a bible – a place that’s not only easy to access in an emergency but also one they’ll never lose.

gateway-healthOnce a home has a 3 word address, its residents can share the location accurately and reliably. Medical services can identify where pregnant women live and provide them with essential pre-natal care. Should any complications occur during labour, ambulance crews also know exactly where to go, to provide life-saving assistance.

In addition to addressing homes in the settlement, Gateway Health is also leading a project to identify the 3 word addresses of critical community assets – including local government centers, medical facilities and clean water pumps.

Once complete, it will help to build a detailed community map, so that residents, businesses and organisations can continue to use 3 word addresses to greatly improve their standard of living.

“For those living in informal settlements and rural areas, ‘location’ presents the biggest challenge in providing health services and products”, said Dr. Coenie Leow, Founder of Gateway Health.  “In these areas demand is high but delivery is poor. what3words changes all that. By providing every property with a unique address, residents now have a simple and reliable way to identify their home.”

Together, Gateway Health and what3words are providing reliable addresses for people in need. Gateway intends to provide every person living in an informal settlement in Durban with a 3 word address, and to then scale the project to a national level and beyond.

Having a home address will help in reaching targets for SDGs

Having a home address will help in reaching targets for SDGs

In 2016, UN Habitat reported that there are one billion informal settlement and slum dwellers worldwide, and this is expected to increase threefold by 2050; projects like these use 3 word addresses to ensure basic services can be delivered to those in need, supporting sustainable improvements to lives all around the world.

To learn more about Gateway Health’s essential work, visit their website.

Learn more about using 3 word addresses in healthcare programmes