Sierra Leone is fighting smart against COVID-19

July 22, 2020

COVID-19 reached Africa in February of 2020; the spread started out relatively slow with it taking nearly 100 days to reach 100,000 cases but then accelerated at a rapid pace with infections doubling in less than 20 days, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). As many countries on the continent are scrambling to cope with the consequences of COVID-19, the Government of Sierra Leone reacted fast and convened an expert group of partners to use geospatial data to inform its prevention and response to the pandemic. 

The west-African country of Sierra Leone currently finds itself mid-table for total infections in Africa. The good results can particularly be attributed to the government’s prevention measures which included public information campaigns reaching the most remote areas and enlisting the help of traditional authorities, and swift and decisive measures ranging from traveller quarantines dating back to January to continued curfews and inter-district lockdowns.

Thanks to the quick reaction, the country was able to delay an outbreak within its borders till the end of March. Now that the virus has inevitably entered the country, Sierra Leone’s government is once again reacting fast and in innovative ways to ensure the safety of its citizens: Together with GRID3, Esri, FraymGPSDD, Maxar and UNECA, the government produced crucial geospatial datasets, analyses, and tools to support the COVID-19 response in Sierra Leone. The most granular geospatial data in the country’s history centre around rapid population estimates based on the 2015 census. To ensure that everyone can benefit from these groundbreaking geospatial data, the new findings will be openly accessible in a COVID-19 hub, featuring a national digital dashboard, to enable easy interaction and interpretation for experts and the general public alike.

“Timely high-resolution geospatial data are an incredibly important asset in our response to COVID-19. By using them, we can accurately analyse where highly mobile and densely populated areas are,” explains David Sengeh, Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education and Chief Innovation Officer at the Directorate of Science, Technology & Innovation (DSTI). “The analyses also highlight areas of risk where it may not be possible to maintain physical distancing recommendations like for example in informal settlements or markets, and additional precautions might be necessary. The data will help us significantly to ensure the safety of Sierra Leone’s population.”

The rapid population estimates predict how many people, as well as their age and sex, live within any given 1 hectare area across the entire country. The data helps to identify those most at risk, determine the implementation of the most efficient support and anti-COVID-19 strategies, including partial or total lockdowns and resulting community needs, and inform the allocation of government resources particularly for the most vulnerable. 

Settlement information and high resolution satellite imagery of metropolitan areas complement the geospatial datasets. The data includes information about sex and age, and shed light on various risk factors for COVID-19 infection and socio-economic vulnerability, highlighting areas and populations that have limited resources to cope with health and economic shocks. The data provides the government and its partners with a comprehensive picture on where people live or move to, and their access to key infrastructure like roads or health facilities.

Osman Sankoh, Statistician General, Chief Executive Officer of Statistics Sierra Leone (Stats SL), and member of the presidential Scientific and Technical Advisory Group on Emergencies, is proud of the role the country’s National Statistics Office plays in assuring the safety of Sierra Leoneans: “Upgrading Stats SL data to a higher resolution and including geospatial-temporal analyses increases the useability of our data, and ensures that Stats SL remains the go-to national institution for credible data for national development.”

A data-driven response to COVID-19 will not only contribute to significantly reducing the damage of COVID-19, but also has the potential to improve and permanently strengthen health systems in Sierra Leone, Africa and around the world. With its mission to build spatial data solutions that make development goals achievable, GRID3 is proud to work under the leadership of the Government of Sierra Leone and in partnership with Esri, Fraym, GPSDD, Maxar and UNECA to contribute to a solid response plan for COVID-19 in Sierra Leone, and support the government’s long term goals of fortifying the country’s health system. 

Featured Photo Credit: CDC Global, Flickr

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