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In acute cases of Covid-19, oxygen therapy saves lives, particularly in resource-limited settings like rural Peru, where more intensive forms of mechanical respiratory support may not be available.
Since the pandemic began, Peru has seen over 1.8 million Covid cases. The WHO estimates the percentage of patients who require oxygen therapy at around 15 percent. While Peru theoretically offers universal healthcare, poverty, lack of resources, and other obstacles have made providing oxygen for the patients that need it a constant challenge.
One of the challenges hindering oxygen delivery and public health planning in Cusco was the lack of accurate, up-to-date maps on where people live. In March 2020, Humanitarian OpenStreet Map Team (HOT) and local partner GAL Group joined forces to help local and national agencies fill this data gap.

Building out the map and responding to a rapidly evolving crisis

The area poses a particular challenge to response planners because of the rough terrain, with a population of over 1.3 million people living in rural areas that range from inaccessible jungles to highland areas well over 4,000 meters above sea level.
The data the government had at the beginning of the pandemic was from the 2017 census and mapped people in rural areas only down to the level of “Centro Poblado,” meaning village, or hamlet, which could contain up to 2,000 people. For mountain communities, this meant a community dispersed across many square kilometers of rough terrain, making it extremely challenging to find individual households, visit regularly, and trace health indicators.
To help fill this gap, HOT tapped into its global network of remote mapping volunteers. Over 10,000 volunteers from around the world working from their home computers in the midst of a pandemic came together to map an area home to 1.3 million people. During HOT’s March to May 2020 mapping push, they made over 850,000 edits to the digital map of Peru, including 664,820 buildings and 20,868 kilometers of road, in support of the Covid-19 response.
map of Cusco


Map showing the Cusco area that remote volunteers mapped during the ten-week Cusco - Covid-19 mapping response. Orange represents buildings and blue represents roads. (© GAL Group)

Armed with this updated, more complete base map, GAL Group worked to support regional agencies as they scrambled to respond to the overwhelming demand of groups in need. The existing data was often spread across dozens of Excel spreadsheets with no common structure, running hundreds of lines long, from different agencies. In a testament to the importance of adaptability and perseverance in the face of a rapidly evolving crisis, HOT and GAL Group’s efforts went through a few iterations before finding the opportunity for impact in facilitating oxygen deliveries.

At the request of the regional government and health authorities, GAL Group worked to create a dashboard that would enable the government to track child health in the midst of the pandemic. Unfortunately, the data the dashboard incorporated was significantly out-of-date, so it did not lead to actionable insights, and nationwide quarantine made updating the data unfeasible.

Dashboard for tracking children’s health data


Dashboard for tracking children’s health data. (© GAL Group)


Data and Maps Support Oxygen Delivery

It was in the growing demand for oxygen for Covid patients that the data and tools developed by HOT and GAL Group found their purpose. The challenge of oxygen distribution was purely one of supply in the region. The company generally in charge of supplying oxygen to the three main hospitals in the Cusco region could not keep up with the need, so the local company Industrias Cachimayo stepped forward to become the region’s main oxygen supplier. Even after refilling the three main hospitals’ oxygen tanks on a daily basis, the Industrias Cachimayo factory still had extra capacity.
Logistics, safety, and convenience then became the primary challenges to oxygen delivery. Like in many countries during the heights of the pandemic, hospitals, which were already difficult to reach for sick people in the outlying areas, were overflowing. Not only did they have difficulty accommodating additional patients, but the crowding made the risk of contracting Covid higher for patients and staff who were not already infected.
Local construction firm Consorcio JERGO was able to use the maps developed by HOT’s online contributors and GAL Group to provide logistical support for the oxygen distribution. They delivered the oxygen to non-hospitalized patients either in their homes or at convenient pick-up locations. This eased the burden on the hospitals while making treatment accessible and safer for moderately but not acutely sick Covid patients.
The mapping and monitoring of this project, including data covering the patients and their carers, their locations, and the centralized drop-off and collection points across the city, was led by GAL Group. In the spirit of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (Health and Well-being), they used the OpenStreetMap base layer created by the worldwide volunteers to identify houses of patients. Meanwhile, local citizens used the KoBo mapping toolbox to track deliveries and create additional geospatial data to improve the efficiency of the distribution.
The oxygen deliveries enabled 900 Covid patients to remain in the comfort of their own homes and avoid further taxing the hospital system. They and their family members shared their appreciation:


Photos: GAL Group
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