Responding to the Ebola crisis

Helping combat the Ebola epidemic using geospatial information

Photo credit: © UNMEER/Martine Perret

The Ebola outbreak

The recent Ebola epidemic in western Africa has been the largest since the disease was discovered in 1976. With more than 27,000 total cases across nine countries, the outbreak has led to more than 11,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

The Ebola virus thrives in warm, forested climates. Bats are thought to be the prime hosts of the Ebola virus and transmit the virus to other mammals via a shared food source. Humans, in turn, contract the virus after eating or handling infected meat, and then can transmit it to other humans.

Photo credit: © NIAID

The spread of the epidemic

Countries with reported cases of Ebola include Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Liberia and Sierra Leone were the most affected countries, with each reporting more than 8,000 cases of the Ebola virus. This created a crucial need for aid organizations to centralize in the region’s major cities, such as Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city.

Photo credit: © Mark Fischer

Enabling an effective response

To effectively administer aid and help the largest number of victims, relief organizations had to know how to get to affected or at-risk areas and where to set up treatment centers for the greatest impact, among other factors. DigitalGlobe satellite imagery and geospatial information became a crucial part of obtaining this information, the foundation of which is a reliable map.

Photo credit: © UNMEER/Martine Perret

Maps of developing regions are often sparse and lack crucial information such as roads, buildings, and points of interest. Using DigitalGlobe high-resolution satellite imagery, online mappers can map these features with crowdsourcing platforms such as OpenStreetMap or Tomnod. Although few features on the ground are distinguishable with lower resolution satellite imagery such as 30 m Landsat, DigitalGlobe’s 30 cm and 50 cm imagery is rich with the detail necessary for creating an accurate map useful to responders on the ground.

Few features on the ground are distinguishable with a 30 m imagery basemap, but DigitalGlobe’s 50 cm imagery is rich with the detail necessary for creating an accurate map for actionable information.

Initial maps of many Ebola-affected areas lacked the detail to inform transportation routing and relief planning. OpenStreetMap enabled the tracing of features on the ground using DigitalGlobe high-resolution satellite imagery to create a more complete map.

DigitalGlobe’s human geography datasets provide the context that analysts and responders need to make critical decisions, such as where to place treatment centers for maximum effectiveness. Toggle the buttons below to see the different layers of information about the infrastructure and populations in the affected areas.

The transportation of supplies and patients often relies on transport by helicopter, but it can be difficult to find a place to land near medical facilities in urban areas. Information layers about the people and terrain helps identify suitable places to land.

Vricon’s 2 m digital surface models (DSMs), produced from the DigitalGlobe imagery archive, provide accurate terrain data over wide areas. DSMs reveal more than what is visible to the naked eye, so hazards can be avoided.

Human Geography datasets provided the location of key points of interest in the area, such as medical facilities and clinics. Proximity to notable features informed decisions about where to drive relief efforts and how to transport aid to those areas.

Cloud-based algorithms quickly identified safe helicopter landing zones, clear of vertical obstructions, for aircraft delivering medical supplies and transporting Ebola victims.

Creating a positive impact

Finding a way to reach victims and coordinate transportation poses a major challenge without accurate maps of Ebola-affected areas.

DigitalGlobe geospatial information enables timely insight into points of transmission, at-risk populations, and optimal treatment center locations for analysts, governments, and aid organizations, ultimately helping save lives.

Photo credit: © UNMEER/Martine Perret