Akros assists mapping of Ebola virus in Mali

By Maswabi Precious Matantilo on January 2, 2015 in Capacity Building, Health Data Systems

As part of its humanitarian support to the Republic of Mali, Akros has been conducting a five-day mapping exercise of Bamako, Mali’s capital, which has been hit with the Ebola virus. The mapping exercise has been done with the use of OpenStreetMap (OSM), an open initiative to create and provide free geographic editable data of the world map. The community’s contributors include enthusiast mappers, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) professionals, engineers running the OSM servers and humanitarians mapping disaster-affected areas.

Akros, having health data systems at the centre of its work, has become part of this global mapping community and is currently working with other contributors to ensure that geographical data about Bamako is made available. Two GIS clerks have been working with supervision from Akros GIS experts in Lusaka to provide data on features such as highways, pedestrian paths, buildings, and water bodies. The mapping work Akros is conducting for Ebola efforts is very similar to activities conducted this past year to plan for and implement malaria interventions in Zambia. “Akros looks for opportunities to take methodologies or lessons learned in one sector and apply them to other areas of health to create impact,” said Akros CEO, Anna Winters. “Related to the devastating Ebola epidemic, we have wanted to support the critical field activities in anyway we can. Our team of GIS mappers have added great value by taking mapping methods we developed in sub-saharan Africa for malaria prevention and applying these to map Ebola-epidemic areas. These maps are extremely beneficial to plan the logistics and implementation of crucial Ebola-related health services”

“This information is critical in the fight against Ebola in the area as it will enable timely allocation of resources such as drugs and will enable health experts to easily reach victims,” said Aniset Kamanga, Akros GIS technician. Information on roads and open fields where helicopters can land will also be provided,” he said.

Once information on various features of Bamako City is identified, other OSM community members who reside in Mali will perform a validation process where they verify and name places. “Working on Ebola mapping has widened my knowledge base and has allowed me to make life easy for those that will be on the ground to fight the disease in that country,” said Edith Namukonda, Akros GIS clerk.

“Though there is no Ebola in Zambia, it still remains a great threat to all human beings since the world is a global village,” said Elizabeth Nondo, Akros GIS clerk. “I may not be present on the ground in Mali to assist in the fight against Ebola but am glad that I can still do it from Zambia.”

Editing a grid using Open Street Map
Editing a grid using Open Street Map

Mali has recorded six deaths from Ebola, including a 2-year-old girl who initially imported the virus into Mali and died of the disease on Oct 24. According to World Health Organisation data, the virus has killed at least 6,841 people in neighbouring Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia as of Dec 15. At one point the West African nation had been monitoring over 300 contact cases. Mali is doing its best to prepare through mapping and development of its health system to respond to the possibility of additional Ebola cases being detected.

Ebola is a rare and deadly disease caused by infection with a virus of the family Filoviridae, genus Ebolavirus. There are five identified Ebola virus species, four of which are known to cause disease in humans. The natural reservoir host of Ebola virus remains unknown. However, on the basis of evidence and the nature of similar viruses, researchers believe that the virus is animal-borne and that bats are the most likely reservoir.

The 2014 Ebola epidemic is the largest in history, affecting countries mostly in West Africa. No approved vaccine or medicine is available for Ebola. Symptoms of the disease and complications are treated as they appear and supportive care is provided.

About Maswabi Precious Matantilo

Precious Matantilo is an Advocacy and Communications Officer for Akros and is a Global Health Corps fellow for 2014/2015. Before joining Akros, Precious worked for the Commonwealth Youth Programme as programmes assistant. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies from the Zambian Open University.