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How mapping can help defeat the Ebola virus

Over time, technological tools for emergency services have evolved. Particularly, digital mapping plays an increasingly important role in helping people in charge of managing humanitarian crises and their operations.

Some months ago, doctors without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reviewed existing tools and skills to deal with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. MSP then decided to send an expert cartographer of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in Guinea to support international and local medical teams fighting the epidemic.

The case study written by Timo Luege, the MSF officer sent to Guinea, helps to understand if it was the right approach to deal with the emergency. Some points of interest in the report by Timo Luege:

  • Many of the areas close to the border of Guinea and Sierra Leone never had been mapped before. For this reason, differences were easy to spot.
  • Despite being in a remote area, the GIS officer had an internet connection which was enough to obtain support. This, in turn, allowed the OpenStreetMap community volunteers to make a direct contribution, and this whole experience is an evidence of how crowdsourcing can help respond to the humanitarian crisis.
  • The officer, as well as his local staff on the ground were able to provide enough information for the mapping to be done remotely. It is important to notice that, without remote support, Timo Luege could not have produced actual accurate maps. On the other hand, without the GIS technician on the ground much of the mapped data would have no meaning. In fact, it takes local knowledge to know whether a building is a school, a hospital or a police station. On top of it, assigning the correct names to the villages is as important as mapping the streets. And for this, too, we need people on the ground.
  • Because MSF chose formats and tools that encourage and require sharing, many of these maps will add value to both the community and its local government. They will also help other humanitarian organizations and development cooperation to work in the area. That is to say, these results will provide sustained benefits.

The whole study can be downloaded from: GIS Support for the MSF Ebola response in Guinea in 2014

Source: TechChange