Free cartographic data, wikis, forums… Throughout West Africa, open data communities are rallying to oppose the spreading of the Ebola virus.
It all started in Guinea. The sudden rise of Ebola, highlighted by the WHO as soon as March 2014, has spread exponentially to the whole of Africa since then. In view of this unprecedented epidemic, open data communities especially that of Open Street Map (OSM) got together the moment the scare was out. It is above all a question of supporting the humanitarian action and informing populations thanks to the improvement of the local cartography, not always functional. Much is at stake: the virus that has already killed more than 4,500 people is producing 10,000 new cases per week.
OpenStreetMap to track Ebola
Most recent illustration of this mobilisation: Mapping night organised during the weekend of October 18th and 19th throughout West Africa. OSM communities from Abidjan, Niamey, Lomé, Ouagadougou and Dakar directed mapathons, mapping parties intended to produce open source geographical data gathered up on OpenStreetMap.
— Togo (@TogoWestAfrica) 17 Octobre 2014
From university campuses to third places including fablabs, the whole ecosystem of the free is united through this crisis plan already implemented by African mappers during conflicts that shook Central Africa. These contributors-cartographers carry out a painstaking job by digitizing assemblies, roads and land-use planning via high-resolution satellite pictures covering the most affected territories. As much field information feedback that allows a better evaluation of the situation in real time. Display of the progress of the Ebola map cartographic data (click on the picture to access the animation):
The World health organisation is taking a close interest in this information. The checking of data and the reliability of sources are indeed of major importance to understand the evolution of the epidemic. “In Liberia, data was reported by four different and non-coordinated sources which lead to many overlaps and duplications”, pointed out the WHO on September 22nd.
— Pierre Béland (@pierzen) October 18, 2014
Communities of the free also bring precious field support for the humanitarian organisations. As soon as March 2014 and the start of the epidemic, Médecins Sans Frontières asked for the help of the Humanitarian OSM Team, established when the Haiti earthquake occurred in 2010. In Guinea, CartONG collaborates with MSF Switzerland to work on the creation of a cartographic centre. A GIS (Geographic Information Systems) technician produced 109 maps of that region, previously poorly mapped out, listing roads, points of interest, villages but also population density or areas of Ebola propagation.
Other type of initiative: the Ebola X Lab collaborative forum, monitoring platform that inventories documentation and imagined initiatives to tackle the advance of the virus. “It all started from a conversation on Facebook that Nicolas Loubet from la Paillasse joined”, explains Sofiane Meguellati who works in digital communication and founded this forum that counts about thirty members to this day. “We told ourselves that a website would allow us to give a better architecture to information circulating on the Ebola subject and that we also could exchange information amongst ourselves, but also with PhD students and members of the collaborative ecosystem.”
One talks about mapping of course but also medical research, social impact, vaccination, all this powered by many links pointing to press articles, open meetings and open source tools to get information in real time of the stages of the epidemic development. And why not imagine how digital prototyping could be used to create protection kits against the virus…