Despite the rapid development of information technology like satellite photography and Google Earth, many resource-poor countries are still blank spaces on the map. Inspired by Wikipedia, the “OpenStreetMap” platform offers the opportunity for people to participate in making accurate, up-to-update maps, and contribute meaningfully to medical humanitarian work in corners of the world where map information is incomplete.

In the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in 2010, the Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013, and the Nepal earthquake in 2015, the keyboard generation completed mapping the disaster areas very rapidly, and their maps  became reliable tools for relief work. In 2014, MSF co-founded the “Missing Maps Project”, which prioritizes mapping vulnerable areas prone to disasters and epidemics. Equipped with more accurate maps ahead of the emergency, humanitarian workers can better follow the impact of natural disasters and epidemic outbreaks, as well as the movements of displaced populations to save more lives.

MSF has organized a number of collective mapping activities, "Mapathons". Volunteers come together to help locate buildings, roads, pathways and water sources based on satellite pictures.

How does cloud mapping help MSF's work?

Taking measles vaccination as an example, in a campaign, 95% of the target population must be vaccinated to successfully stop the spread of the disease. However, if the number of people needing injections is unknown, it is difficult to prepare enough vaccines, refrigeration equipment, related transportation and manpower plans. Having a map with detailed information is then essential.

In April 2016, there was an outbreak of measles in Idjwi,  the Democratic Republic of Congo, but the last census was done in 2010. Idjwi is very rural without paved roads or easy access, hampering the launch of a vaccination campaign. MSF  gathered volunteers who happened to be taking part in Mapathons held in the UK and Belgium to helpcomplete maps of the area.. Just a week after the outbreak, mapping was completed and handed over to MSF's frontline field teams. 94.8% of the target population received injections, which was an excellent result.

"People are very keen to take part because the outputs are so important, and the whole process offers a fantastic middle ground of support between donating to MSF and volunteering as part of [the organization's] field operations," said Duncan Bain, the UK Mapathon organizer.


In the two Mapathons held in Singapore and Hong Kong, more than 250 participants mapped nearly 9,000 buildings and more than 300 kilometres of roads for Niger State in Nigeria. Accurate maps assist emergency teams in epidemiological data analysis, disease surveillance and logistical planning.

Mapathon participants do not need special skills, and are not norlimited by space or time. They can just log onto their cloud accounts for mapping while they are free, and contribute to medical humanitarian assistance on the front line.



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