Using Geospatial Data to Fight Polio: Understanding The eHealth Africa Model

eHealth Africa Initiative

Polio in Nigeria

Nigeria was declared polio-free in August 2020, a feat it achieved after several decades of continuous action. In 2009 Nigeria was considered the epicentre of a worldwide outbreak of the polioviruses. And in 2016, the country was temporarily declared polio-free. However, three new cases soon emerged in Northern Nigeria. This was a major setback in the fight against polio as these cases were the first to be discovered since 2014.     

New challenges for old problems

Asides the reluctance of citizens to accept the polio vaccines, insurgency and inadequate data contributed to the resurgence of the wild poliovirus in 2014. In April 2019, only 247 settlements in Borno state were reached during routine immunization activities. By December 2019, the settlements covered during immunization activities climbed 1,758. Likewise in Ganjuwa Local Government Area (LGA), Bauchi state, of the 2,817 settlements contained on the eHealth Africa database, only 1,134 were available on the Bauchi state master list. As such, 60% of the settlements in that particular LGA were left out during immunization. This challenge is not limited to Northern Nigeria. In Oyo State, South-West Nigeria, hard to reach settlements is mapped manually by government workers. However, this method is tedious and more often than not, unsuccessful.

How eHealth Africa used geospatial data to solve these challenges

These challenges can be easily surmounted if satellite data is employed in mapping remote settlements. eHealth Africa leveraged this possibility through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative(GPEI) where it mapped eleven states in Nigeria. These states were mapped using a combination of remote sensing, satellite imagery, primary data collection, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Using this map as a foundation, eHealth alongside her partners planned and tracked immunization activities across 140,000 settlements.

Furthermore, eHealth Africa is building on this success to map 25 states and the FCT through the Geo-Referenced Infrastructure and Demographic Data for Development (GRID3) project. The project is part of the GRID3 program, a partnership between the Center for International Earth Science Network (CIESIN) at Columbia University, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), WorldPop at the University of Southampton, and Flowminder Foundation. The project which is aimed at collecting complete and accurate geospatially referenced data across Africa rallied support and engagement from governments. Data gathered from this project would be stored on the GRID3 geodatabase and would assist State governments in making data-driven decisions. The project would also strengthen human resources by training selected data collectors on the use of ODK/GeoODK.

Similarly, eHealth Africa, in partnership with the National Center for Disease Control (NCDC), used advanced GIS technologies to fight cholera in Nigeria. Building on John Snow’s ideas of mapping, NCDC and eHealth Africa was able to utilize GIS capabilities to map cholera hotspots across Nigeria’s Local Government Areas. At the start of the outbreak, hotspot analysis helps determine where to vaccinate and what quantity of vaccines are required per LGA. At the end of the analysis, 83 LGAs were identified as probable hotspots for cholera, and at least one case was discovered in 72 of these LGA’s. This exercise ensures the effectiveness of the oral cholera vaccine immunization campaigns, which are rolled out to stop the spread of disease.

This can work across the Continent

African countries can partner with organizations like eHealth Africa to create a geodatabase. This database would not only be instrumental in solving health challenges but also for policy making and formulation.   

Beyond partnership, African countries can leverage on open data sharing opportunities provided by the Group on Earth Observation (GEO), United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and the African Union (AU). Leveraging these opportunities would ensure that African countries can gain from geospatial data without necessarily owning a satellite. 


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