Learning to map NTDs during course in Abuja

GAHI map: predictive risk of STH in Nigeria

A participant of our short course in Abuja recounts his experience learning about mapping neglected tropical diseases.

3 February 2014

Uzoma Nwankwo is Programme Officer for the Guinea Worm Eradication Programme & Human African Trypanosomiasis Elimination Programme of the Neglected Tropical Diseases Division at the Department of Public Health, Federal Ministry of Health, Nigeria. He attended GAHI's course, Modern Tools for NTD Control Programmes, in Abuja from 20 - 24 January 2014, and he shared his experience here. Uzoma founded and manages the Ministry of Health's NTD blog and Twitter, @NTDNigeria

Some time in 2013, news of a GIS course reached us at the Ministry of Health. The course is prepared and facilitated by the research team behind the Global Atlas of Helminth Infections (GAHI), and we were all excited about it. The interest was so much that all the available places were quickly filled up. A nice hall at the Bolton White Hotel, Garki Area 11, was our base from January 20 – 24, 2014.

I was particularly excited to be on the course because I am usually filled with despair when I present data that I know would have been better portrayed on maps. I always knew a good display of the geographical distribution of the NTDs was relevant to plan interventions and visualize and track progress made in control activities. It’s also a critical advocacy tool for the NTD Programme especially in our resource-poor setting with competing demands. I was thus determined to end the course better equipped to give visual descriptions to my work and presentations. 

There were about 25 participants representing several groups working in NTD control:

• Neglected Tropical Disease Programme of the Federal Ministry of Health
• National Bureau of Statistics
• Non Governmental Development Partners: Sightsavers, Helen Keller International, Envision/RTI International, Mission To Save The Helpless (MITOSATH), CBM Vision 2020, The Carter Centre
• Consultants to the National NTD Programme 


This group of people and their organisations had in recent time been responsible for the epidemiological mapping of NTDs in Nigeria, from the DFID-supported Global Trachoma Mapping Project to the current Schisto/STH mapping supported by the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation UK. This course was therefore timely to help develop maps from the data collected from these exercises.

The Director of Public Health, Dr. Bridget Okoeguale, declared the course open on behalf of the Honourable Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu.She implored all participants to make good use of the opportunity to acquire skills in the use of available mapping tools to enhance the NTD control activities. The National NTD coordinator, Dr. Uwaezuoke Onyebuchi, and the Coordinator for Schistosomiasis and STH control in Nigeria, Dr. Obiageli Nebe, both assured the Minister’s representative of the participants’ commitment. Mr William Adamani of Sighsavers in his goodwill message pledged the continued support of the NGDO Coalition to the NTD Programme in Nigeria.

Soon after the opening formalities, day 1 continued with focus on key concepts in NTD Mapping. Prof. Simon Brooker of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine took us through Epidemiology of NTDs and current diagnostic tools, while Jenny Smith, also of LSHTM, led discussions on principles of surveys and mapping. They almost turned us into epidemiologists in the process. This was after I had in the past made very deliberate efforts to stay away from all things Epi & Stat! I had succeeded thus far until Simon and crew caught up with me. They sure took care of my phobia though, balancing all the jargon with flashes of fancy GAHI maps and thus keeping me interested in the process.


I was most impressed when we were shown the newly launched NTD Mapping Tool that is available at www.NTDmap.org. The site was interactive and we spent a few hours exploring it. It showed geographical distribution of schistosomiasis, STH and trachoma. The tool was so user friendly that I would probably have gone home feeling fulfilled that I could use this tool to create maps that will perfectly fit my everyday work needs. Dr. Jorge Cano Ortega of LSHTM ended the day with a practical session during which we were introduced to the Quantum GIS interface and GIS features.

Day 2 saw Simon introduce us to websites where we could find data for GIS and then handed us over to Jorge. By the end of the day we had produced our own base maps. It was that simple and amazing. So easy was the process (or so it appeared) that we were all left asking for more. We wanted to start off producing more maps as soon as was possible.

When I got into the groove of the amazing maps, I even decided to do my own little project: Collecting coordinates of culinary delights in Abuja and mapping them for anyone who cared to explore a bit of the city. It was an attempt by an amateur, but a significant improvement from the completely ignorant trainee I was at the start of the week.

Simon’s presentations with GAHI maps got me very jealous but even more excited at what we would be able to accomplish in the coming days. We gradually got a grasp of QGIS and kept at it even at the expense of our breaks. Many times we were glued to our computer screens and did not heed the call for lunch break from Jenny and especially Nina Cromeyer Dieke, whose communication skills were required to convince us to take a few minutes’ break from our laptops. Our facilitators probably saw truth in the saying, “Once you pop, you can’t stop”.Only in the course of the days that followed did we realise that behind every fancy map were vectors, rasters and datasets. (Sorry uninitiated folks. How else can I show off my skills if I don’t use jargon? If you want to be at par with me then take the courses at www.thiswormyworld.org). I must add, however, that when the vectors, rasters and datasets came at us, it was reassuring to put an arm up and Jorge, Rachel or Jenny were there for support and guidance.

Somewhere in between our training we also found time to get a few drinks and get to know what we actually did for a living besides developing maps. We also had to show our guests around the Federal Capital Territory.


After a week of tutoring and creating maps, the course ended and certificates of participation were issued after which that moment to say farewell came, as we all feared it would. But we had become more confident and better trained to put the available open source Quantum GIS to good use in our work and respective projects.

Learn more about our course, Modern Tools for NTD Control Programmes.

Prof. Simon Brooker on sources of GIS data

A good way to finish the week, at Wakkis

Facilitators and participants at the Bolton White Hotel