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Mapping for Ebola: A Collaborative Effort

Posted on by Blog Administrator

Map of AfricaOne of the difficulties faced by teams responding to the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is identifying individuals and communities residing in remote areas. Existing maps of these regions either do not exist or are inadequate or outdated. This means that basic data like location of houses, buildings, villages, and roads are not easily accessible, and case finding and contact tracing can be extremely difficult.

To help aid the outbreak response effort, volunteers from around the world are using an open-source online mapping platform called OpenStreetMap (OSM) to create detailed maps and map data of  Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and parts of Mali.

Person mapping at a computerCommonly referred to as “Wikipedia for maps,” OSM is working toward the goal of making a map of the world that is freely available to anyone who wants to use it. The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) is a U.S.-based non-profit organization that represents a subset of the OSM community. HOT’s mission is to use OSM data and tools to help prepare and respond to humanitarian disasters. Because OSM data is available for free download anywhere in the world, volunteer mappers generate data that are useful not only to CDC but also to other agencies involved in the Ebola response, such as Doctors Without Borders (MSF), International Red Cross (IRC), and World Health Organization.

Mappers frequently use satellite images to identify villages, houses, paths, and other details that were previously unmapped. The U.S. State Department’s Humanitarian Information Unit (HIU) is supporting HOT and OSM by creating the MapGive.org website, which provides easy-to-follow instructions on how to begin mapping very quickly. Personnel in CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine (DGMQ) are coordinating with HIU and HOT to support and promote volunteer mapping in affected West African areas where CDC teams are currently working.

Members of Emory’s Student Outbreak and Response Team (SORT) are some of these volunteer mappers. SORT is a graduate student organization that collaborates with CDC and provides hands-on training in outbreak response and emergency preparedness. Ryan Lash, a mapping scientist in DGMQ’s Travelers’ Health Branch, initially contacted SORT for help in August as the number of Ebola cases in West Africa continued to rise. He has since provided two workshops for SORT members, taught a small number of CDC staff, and trained students at the University of Georgia.

Rabies response-EOCIn the 8 months that HOT has been mapping countries with Ebola outbreaks, more than 2,500 volunteers have mapped more than 750,000 buildings and hundreds of kilometers of roads, resulting in detailed maps of affected West African communities. Not only do these maps help first responders and other organizations around the world, they also contribute to the national information infrastructure essential to the recovery and rebuilding of affected regions. The value of OSM was highlighted especially well during the 2010 Haiti earthquake, after which the U.S. State Department decided to promote volunteer mapping as a way for the general public to get involved in humanitarian emergencies.

Volunteer mapping in OSM for HOT can be done by anyone. All you need is a computer, an internet connection, and the time and willingness to learn. Find out more about how you can help here: Learn to Map

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25 comments on “Mapping for Ebola: A Collaborative Effort”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    Would it be beneficial to offer MMR vaccinations at the super bowl and/or at various sites in Arizona since there is a big outbreak right now?

    Concerned. Family Nurse Practitioner

    -This seems incredibly useful for the aid we send to help africa, in case of a disaster.
    -This reminds me of GPS when you turn off a main road sometimes it knows about shortcuts,.
    – When was the last case of ebola in the U.S. found?

    This is so encouraging as a citizen of the world! It’s easy for Americans to turn a blind eye to the rest of the worlds atrocities because we are this self-sustaining bubble but when I hear of medical professionals and graduate students taking action it makes me excited for the next generation and possibly to help our selfish ignorant reputation around the world. I’m curious as to how and in what capacity the internet is accessed there? Do companies all somehow bring hot spots? How would you get service in a village with little to no electricity? Satellite?

    This is a great way to be aware of what is happening around the world, and to be interested in doing humanitarian activities in times of calamities. Also, this helps student to more involved in providing hands-on training in outbreak response. How can people volunteer to be a part of this team?

    It seems odd to me that the task of mapping out areas has created such a huge impact on so many areas of the Ebola effort. I suppose the reason i have this view is that here in the U.S. we have all sorts of maps and GPS to help us out, i never thought of it as a luxury. Is the mapping helping to decrease those affected by Ebola? Or are the areas that are being descovered so far from those infected that it has not made a distinct difference?

    Our generation of technology has come so far. Its amazing to think that just with one app, others can connect to the same app and see street map created by others. I see that it says the app can be loaded worldwide, but is it basically just for the CDCs benefit for using this app? How can others benefit from that app that are not on the ebola case?
    It seems similar to an app i have called wayze. Except we don’t add streets or roads that are not there, its to post if there are any accidents near by, or cops hiding around corners that people might not see.

    I believe that this is a great way to help the people who are in need and for CDC as well. Personally, i would love to involve in signing up for one of those teams. I volunteer at a hospital in West Covina and i get to volunteer at the Emergency Department where i helped with patients who are in need of immediate medical care. So, i am very familiar with what i should do when i face disasters to help people. So, it would be a great opportunity to do humanitarian job. I agree that those location maps of disasters are very helpful because it indicates who and where are people need help with medical care or food supply or shelters. Is OSM only for mapping of Ebola or have they done elsewhere that i didn’t know about?

    What a great way to use passive surveillance, it has surely helped with mapping and seems reliable. It is good that these volunteers did the work and made these maps, the maps will serve as a tools for many people for they provide hands on information. I did not know that people can volunteer for these types of tasks, do they have to meet certain criteria to volunteer? Would Active surveillance produce more accurate data?

    Its good to see so many agencies involved with Ebola tracking even though it is not an endemic in place where helop is coming from. Reminds me of the humanitarian mission we did in Papa New Guineas and then having to record all the patients that we were able to assist. What are the perks of volunteering?

    So, after Mappers use satellite images to identify villages, houses, paths, and other details that were previously unmapped, what actions followed ?
    we are taught that recovery from Ebola depends on good supportive care and the patient’s immune response. The vaccines and treatments for Ebola are under development

    This is a great epidemiological tool that can help not only find the source of the disease but keep people updated on where it is spreading to. You can never be to prepared for an outbreak of such a catastrophic disease. I have been trying to research Ebola and become aware of its signs and symptoms and area of prevalence and this will be of great use for that. Could this ever become available to physicians and medical personnel for all reported cases of infectious diseases?

    Technology has really come a long way and these kinds of resources are very helpful for everyone from government agencies, organizations and even for individuals who are interested to see the places that are affected by Ebola. But since mapping can be done by anyone, I wonder how accurate are the information?

    @Pacheco,Jade, the last case of Ebola in the United States was reported in October of 2014. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported a case of Ebola in a medical aid worker who had returned to New York City from Guinea, where the medical aid worker had served with Doctors Without Borders. The diagnosis was confirmed by CDC on October 24 and the patient has since recovered and was discharged from Bellevue Hospital Center on November 11. Since then, there have been no new cases – either imported or locally acquired — of Ebola in the United States. You can find more information on the cases of Ebola diagnosed in the United States here: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/outbreaks/2014-west-africa/united-states-imported-case.html

    @Tansley, OpenStreetMap uses manual surveying, GPS devices, aerial photography, and other free sources to generate data which can then be accessed using a number of applications. Most of the mapping is done remotely all over the world, and maps can also be generated offline with local installation of Mapnik or by downloading previously-generated map data. You can learn more about OpenStreetMap and how it’s used in humanitarian emergencies (like the current Ebola outbreak here): http://hot.openstreetmap.org/about

    @FrancineViray, there are many ways to get involved with the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT). You can find more information on how to get started here: http://hot.openstreetmap.org/get-involved
    By learning to map in OpenStreetMap and contributing edits to OpenStreetMap, you are generating raw vector data which is immediately accessible and downloadable to anyone in the world, including other public health organizations which are helping respond to this outbreak.

    @AubrieGlover, the maps generated in OpenStreetMap are incredibly valuable to humanitarian aid responses like the current Ebola outbreak response. Aid organizations on the ground are attempting to contain the spread of Ebola, and it’s crucial that responders are able to quickly locate those infected or those who may have been exposed. Therefore, detailed and accurate maps of the region are vital, and key organizations like MSF (Doctors Without Borders), CarONG, and Red Cross are closely collaborating with OpenStreetMap to deliver maps to field workers. These maps are then used to help locate Ebola cases and contacts.

    @ViannaDelgado, volunteer mapping in OpenStreetMap and HOT can be done by anyone (not restricted to CDC personnel). By learning to map in OpenStreetMap and contributing edits to OpenStreetMap, you are generating raw vector data which is immediately accessible and downloadable to anyone in the world, including other public health organizations which are helping respond to this outbreak.
    The maps are particularly useful in places where map data is scarce, out of date, or rapidly changing, and they have been used in many other contexts other than the Ebola outbreak. For instance, after the January 2010 Haiti earthquake, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team began traveling to help support mapping and train locals and humanitarians how to use OSM. Volunteers used satellite imagery to map roads, buildings, and refugee camps of Port-au-Prince, creating the most complete digital map of Haiti’s roads. You can learn more about the various settings in which OSM is used here: http://hot.openstreetmap.org/about

    @MayHlaing, volunteer mapping in OpenStreetMap and HOT can be done by anyone (not restricted to CDC personnel). By learning to map in OpenStreetMap and contributing edits to OpenStreetMap, you are generating raw vector data which is immediately accessible and downloadable to anyone in the world, including other public health organizations which are helping respond to this outbreak.
    The maps are particularly useful in places where map data is scarce, out of date, or rapidly changing, and they have been used in many other contexts other than the Ebola outbreak. For instance, after the January 2010 Haiti earthquake, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team began traveling to help support mapping and train locals and humanitarians how to use OSM. Volunteers used satellite imagery to map roads, buildings, and refugee camps of Port-au-Prince, creating the most complete digital map of Haiti’s roads. You can learn more about the various settings in which OSM is used here: http://hot.openstreetmap.org/about

    @Laurent, volunteer mapping in OpenStreetMap and HOT can be done by anyone (not restricted to CDC personnel). By learning to map in OpenStreetMap and contributing edits to OpenStreetMap, you are generating raw vector data which is immediately accessible and downloadable to anyone in the world, including other public health organizations which are helping respond to this outbreak.
    The maps generated in OpenStreetMap are used to aid organizations on the ground that attempting to contain the spread of Ebola, and it’s crucial that responders are able to quickly locate those infected or those who may have been exposed. Therefore, detailed and accurate maps of the region are vital.

    @AlfaroC., volunteer mapping in OpentStreetMap and HOT can be done by anyone (not restricted to CDC personnel), and individuals willing to participate can learn how to map based on the HIU’s MapGive website. Additional training and information resources about editing OpenStreetMap can be found at LearnOSM.org, and through the OpenStreetMap Wiki website.
    By learning to map in OpenStreetMap and contributing edits to OpenStreetMap, you are generating raw vector data which is immediately accessible and downloadable to anyone in the world, including other public health organizations which are helping respond to this outbreak.

    @T.Zhou, the maps generated in OpenStreetMap are used to aid organizations on the ground that attempting to contain the spread of Ebola and are used to identify cases and to aid in contact tracing. You can learn more about how the maps are used here: http://hot.openstreetmap.org/about

    @KristaPenrod, while the maps generated in OpenStreetMap do not include case counts, they could be useful to medical personnel – particularly those in regions where base map data is scare, out of date, or rapidly changing – who are aiding in humanitarian or outbreak responses.

    @GracieFoliente, each map is divided up into a number of small squares, or plots of land that a mapper takes ownership of. A system of checks and balances exists to ensure that each new element (e.g. road, building, etc.) added to a map has been verified for accuracy by another mapper. The degree of accuracy also depends on the existing GPS or aerial satellite data; however, in areas where there is no coverage, even an inaccurate tracing of a road known to exist is an improvement. The more dense areas of the maps tend to be those for which many users have refined the data over time.

    As a geographer who has worked extensively in development, I am really excited to see how the CDC are embracing the use of OpenStreetMap, volunteer groups, and working with students. Having established similar project at the U.S. Agency for International Development, I can attest to how difficult it is to do this in the bureaucracy of a federal agency. As a taxpayer I can only say how happy this makes me. I strongly encourage the CDC to support the individuals responsible for this innovative approach to open data within your agency. It’s simply wonderful to see!

    What is interesting about this blog is that there are some areas in the world that the location of houses, buildings, villages, and roads that are not easily accessible can’t be found on a map which makes case finding and contact tracing extremely difficult.

    This relates to something in my life because the research of these volunteers is beneficial not only to me but everyone in the world about locating these places to discover where ebola may also be found.

    The changes or adjustments that I can make from the knowledge I have gained in this blog are finding information about ebola and possibly contribute to the research.

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