Mapping Team Assists in West Africa Ebola Fight


Geography Department Associate Professor Lawrence McGlinn is training others to map West African roads, paths and villages to aid doctors and nurses working to fight the Ebola virus. Center for Disease Control/Getty Images

By Despina Williams Parker

Assisting with the Ebola crisis in West Africa can be as easy as clicking a mouse.

On Tuesday, Oct. 28, Lawrence McGlinn, an associate professor in the Geography Department, held a seminar in Sojourner Truth Library, Room 18, to train others to create detailed maps of West African regions impacted by the Ebola virus using the OpenStreetMap mapping website.

“Doctors and nurses working for the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders to fight Ebola in West Africa do not know where many potential victims are, or how to get to them,” noted McGlinn. “Infrastructure and detailed maps do not exist for much of the region, and many weeks and lives can be wasted missing significant, infected populations.”

McGlinn trained the seminar’s 13 attendees to examine OpenStreetMap’s high-resolution satellite imagery and mark minor roads, paths and villages. The maps will then verified by experts and published for use by medical personnel in the field for a more efficient effort against the disease.

McGlinn said only four of the attendees were geographers, and the only technical experience required to create the maps is the ability to use a mouse to draw lines and outline areas on satellite images. McGlinn has hosted a similar workshop in his Cartography class.

McGlinn said the mapping project is critical for health workers in West Africa to respond to Ebola cases quickly, and thus, contain the disease.

“World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders request these maps, and do use them,” said McGlinn, noting that humanitarian mapping projects also extend to other projects around the globe, including recovery efforts in war zones, malaria control and flooding reclamation.

To join the OpenStreetMap project, contact McGlinn at