Facebook’s free data platform now offers disease prevention maps for download


Facebook’s fast-scaling Data for Good team is exploring new avenues to see how it can create a meaningful impact on the society by combining publicly- and commercially-available datasets with its own machine vision and artificial intelligence capabilities.

Two years after it released disaster prevention maps to help relief agencies track victims faster, Facebook is ready with a new set of map products to improve health outcomes for communities around the world. Facebook’s disease prevention maps come in three parts:

  • Population density maps with demographic estimates
  • Movement maps
  • Network coverage maps

While the high-resolution population density maps for various countries can be downloaded instantly here, to gain access to movement or network coverage data maps, you will have to undergo a vetting process – presumably because Facebook has now started taking user privacy seriously, and wants to be able to answer how and with whom the data is being shared. You can reach out to diseaseprevmaps@fb.com to collaborate.

Several humanitarian agencies that plan public health campaigns or respond to disease outbreak have become early partners for these map products. These organizations include the International Medical Corps, Malaria Atlas Project, UNICEF, the World Bank, and the World Economic Forum.

Why Facebook’s disease prevention maps are important

A number of health organizations, such as the Red Cross, have also been using Facebook’s population density maps – a part of the disaster prevention map suite – to make more efficient on-ground decisions about workers and vaccine distribution. Now, these datasets are three times more detailed than any other source and come with demographic insights like the number of children under five or the number of women of reproductive age. Last month, Facebook even released the most-detailed population density maps of the majority of the African continent.

The above map shows movement between Greater London and surrounding areas by day

Commenting on the importance of movement maps, Dr. Adam Kucharski, Assistant Professor in Mathematical Modeling at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said, “Population movements are crucial for the spread of many infections — from influenza to measles. But historically it’s been very difficult for disease researchers to get information on these movement patterns.” By integrating Facebook’s movement data into epidemiological models, researchers will be able to glean insights about where the next case of cholera or drug-resistant malaria is likely to occur.

Map showing the density of 3G network coverage availability across areas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo affected by the most recent Ebola outbreak

And since the majority of people who use Facebook on mobile phones rely on cellular networks, the social networking giant is hoping to help health organizations determine whether target populations can be reached online through its network coverage maps.

Ishveena is a geospatial enthusiast and a veteran of creating and managing compelling digital content for organizations and individuals. When she is not making magic at her desk, you are likely to find her exploring nature, eating her way through life, or binge-watching funny animal videos.