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Using GIS for disease mapping in Ambon City

Alice Creighton

This success story is by Imam Munandar, GIS Specialist USAID APIK in Maluku and updated by Nyoman Prayoga, Communications Specialist for Knowledge Management and Reporting USAID APIK. It was originally published on the USAID-APIK website on December 20, 2018.


Riky Samson works at the Ambon City Health Agency and is responsible for disaster-prone area surveys in the city. Whenever an outbreak occurs, he needs to make sure the government is monitoring the situation all across the city. Malaria, tuberculosis (TBC), dengue fever, and HIV/AIDS are some of the diseases that became his responsibilities. The results of the data collection are used as input for activities planning and budgeting in his agency and the Ministry of Health at the national level for Indonesia.

“Before APIK’s assistance, the data we had was only in Excel sheet forms (tables) and manually drawn maps. With APIK’s assistance, my skills in spatial mapping have improved and now I can put them into practice. The knowledge is very useful for me because it helps me in monitoring disease and making an evaluation report out of it,” said Riki during a recent interview with USAID APIK.

The adaptation challenge

In March 2018, the Ministry of Health asked Riky whether or not he could display his collected data in map format. During that time, he was puzzled since none of the staff in the Ambon Health Agency had the skills to convert the tabulation data into a map format. He even wondered if those data can be visualized in such ways.

“I was feeling so stressed because there was no one that can operate GIS (Geographic Information System) in my office. Even it was the first time I heard about the term GIS itself,” said Riky. It was not only the Ambon Health Agency, but all cities and districts in Maluku Province were required to map the disaster-prone area as requested by the Ministry of Health. Most of them were not prepared for the task. The absence of spatial system support and human resource with the necessary skill to carry the task of mapping made this became difficult.

In 2011, the Ministry of Health released a Ministerial Regulation on Health Sector Climate Adaptation (Peraturan Menteri Kesehatan Republik Indonesia No. 1018/MENKES/PER/V/2011). The information system was one of the main strategies in the regulation. It is important to make sure the information is accessible to the public as well. Within the information system, spatial data is one of the components. This became a challenge for Ambon City, again, because of the limited human resource capacity in spatial mapping area.

Capacity Building and Technical Assistance to Improve Mapping Ability

Since 2016, USAID APIK has worked with Ambon City Government in managing climate risk and increasing the resilience of the city. USAID APIK believes that access to information is one of the enabling factors that helps strengthen community resilience and this aligns with the need of the city government. Improved capacity in the spatial field will help the government in the planning process and with information dissemination to the public.

The technical assistance in the spatial field for the Ambon City Health Agency began in mid-April 2018. Between April and October 2018 there were eight training events with different specific topics. For example, they learned how to map the distribution of malaria and dengue disease in the city. Similarly, they also learned how to map and model other diseases and health topic such as nutrition status. More than 15 government staff in the Health Agency received this capacity building and improved their skills in spatial mapping. In total, USAID APIK has trained 150 Ambon City government staff in spatial mapping skills, including those from the Health Agency. The project also assisted the establishment of three spatial community groups in Ambon City.

Improved visualisation of disease data for Ambon City planning

Thanks to the training, Riky is now able to map the data from an Excel table format. The new maps developed after the technical assistance from USAID APIK were then used in a presentation during the 2018 health sector provincial meeting. This meeting in Buru Island was attended by all city/district Health Agencies in Maluku Province, along with the Health Ministry from Jakarta. Interestingly, it was only Ambon City that presented the data in map format and it became a proud moment for the staff. The maps helped the Ambon City government to show the information visually and were more informative in terms of location context. From there, the Head of Ambon City Health Agency, Drg. Wendy Pelupessy, M. Kes agreed to arrange a regular spatial mapping training which will be included in the following year’s budget.

A map that was developed by Riki as a result of the capacity building, Ambon City.

Lessons Learnt

Riky’s experience provided a lesson about the usefulness of mapping for managing climate risk in the area of public health and disease risks. “This activity has shown a new way for the Ambon City Health Agency to provide information regarding disease-prone areas to the community. More importantly, it helps us to provide a more targeted planning concept within the agency so we can use the available resources more optimally,” said Riky.

Similarly using spatial mapping and GIS can provide lessons for other areas of public policy. GIS Specialist for USAID APIK based in Maluku, Imam Munandar, reported that he sought to incorporate the spatial concept into other government agencies in Ambon City to help them plan better more efficiently and on target. According to him, spatial planning would help different agencies in the government to coordinate and synchronize better.


The technical assistance from USAID APIK in Maluku shows that spatial skills and concepts can support planning activities and facilitate the delivery of information. Hopefully, this can inspire other agencies and other cities/districts that face similar challenges and they can replicate this initiative according to their needs.