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Mainline Baseline Studies: the what, why, how and where

Joost Breeksema, with his energetic smile, twinkly eyes and psychedelic fashion sense seems an unlikely candidate to be conducting desk research. However, with his years of “Mainlining” as a trainer, M&E Officer and other assorted roles, he is now venturing into the unchartered wilderness of the Baseline Study.

What exactly is a Baseline Study and what is it used for?

A baseline study gives us an overview of the situation in a country or region. In the case of Mainline, we are using the study to identify gaps in countries we are considering working in, or it can be used as a measurement tool to measure progress or lack thereof over the course of time. It can also be used to measure your ‘starting point’. Baseline could indicate that there needs to be more information gathered regarding health or drug use, training or perhaps a mapping exercise.

What does a Baseline Study look like?

At Mainline, a baseline study is made up of an initial consultation (literature review and interviews), which is then compiled into a report. The report summarises data collected, such as official government reports on HIV and drug use and identifies gaps regarding interventions, knowledge and services. If analysed properly, a baseline should help Mainline identify what harm reduction services we can offer to this community. Common questions are: What are the primary key populations in the country? And what are the key health issues for people who use drugs (PWUD) in relation to HIV? From here, we can dive into other topics to further investigate.



What is the time frame for this type of study?

In order to prevent being sucked into a vortex of details, it’s important to put a firm time limit on the study. If you’re not careful, you can get lost in the details. On average, it takes about 3 months to carry out a thorough baseline study.

Things to consider are desk research, travelling to the country and talking to key players, possible partners and stakeholders in the country. You need to interview them and write an initial consultation report. Based on the conclusions of the report, Mainline may decide to work in the country to fill identified gaps. Each new project we embark upon must be in line with the Mainline mission and vision.

How do you avoid the report ending up unread and covered in dust?

We’re hesitant to write reports that end up in drawers, and don’t do research just to do research. We’re pragmatic and geared towards improving our work and sharpening our focus.

Learn about the 5 steps after the baseline is completed


What is one of the most interesting Baseline discoveries you’ve made?

In one country, we received reports that HIV prevalence was lowered from 68% to 6% in a period of 5-10 years. This is hardly possible, and upon further research, we found that those reporting were confusing ‘incidence’ with ‘prevalence’.

Which countries are currently undergoing a Baseline Study

In 2016, Mainline has initiated baseline studies in Kenya, Nepal, South Africa, Indonesia and Tanzania. It’s important to note that these studies are used for exploring situations in new countries, as well as a measurement of progress in countries where we are currently already involved.

Mainline has decided that it will be a standard process to do a Baseline in every country it’s either considering or currently involved with.



  • Curious to learn what the next steps are upon completion of the baseline studies? Click here.


  • Want to know more about the outcomes of our baseline studies per country?

    Keep an eye on our website: we will refresh our country pages in the coming weeks to give you all the insights.
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