Mobile phone data helps combat malaria

May 14, 2014
Credit: CDC

An international study led by the University of Southampton and the National Vector-borne Diseases Control Programme (NVDCP) in Namibia has used mobile phone data to help combat malaria more effectively.

The study used anonymised mobile records to measure population movements within Namibia in Africa over the period of a year (2010-11). By combining this data with information about diagnosed cases of malaria, topography and climate, the researchers have been able to identify geographical 'hotspots' of the and design targeted plans for its elimination.

Geographer at the University of Southampton Dr Andy Tatem says: "Understanding the movement of people is crucial in eliminating malaria. Attempts to clear the disease from an area can be ruined by highly mobile populations quickly reintroducing the parasite which causes malaria.

"If we are to eliminate this disease, we need to deploy the right measures in the right place, but figures on patterns in endemic regions are hard to come by and often restricted to local travel surveys and census-based migration data.

"Our study demonstrates that the rapid global proliferation of mobile phones now provides us with an opportunity to study the movement of people, using sample sizes running in to millions. This data, combined with disease case based mapping, can help us plan where and how to intervene."

Twelve months of anonymised Call Data Records (CDRs) were provided by service provider Mobile Telecommunications Limited (MTC) to the researchers (see note 1 for a full list of partners) – representing nine billion communications from 1.19 million unique subscribers, around 52 per cent of the population of Namibia. Aggregated movements of mobile users between urban areas and urban and rural areas were analysed in conjunction with data based on rapid diagnostic testing (RDT) of malaria and information on the climate, environment and topography of the country.

The results of the study help the NVDCP in Namibia improve their targeting of malaria interventions to communities most at risk. Specifically they have helped with the targeting of insecticide-treated bed net distributions in the Omusati, Kavango and Zambezi regions in 2013, and will continue to help the NVDCP prepare for a large-scale net distribution in 2014 and deployment of community health workers.

Dr Tatem comments: "The importation of from outside a country will always be a crucial focus of disease control programmes, but movement of the disease within countries is also of huge significance. Understanding the human element of this movement should be a critical component when designing elimination strategies – to help target resources most efficiently.

"The use of data is one example of how new technologies are overcoming past problems of quantifying and gaining a better understanding of human movement patterns in relation to disease control."

More information: The paper 'Integrating rapid risk mapping and mobile phone call record data for strategic malaria elimination planning' is published in the Malaria Journal and can be found at: www.malariajournal.com/content/13/1/52

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Experimental MERS vaccine shows promise in animal studies

July 28, 2015

A two-step regimen of experimental vaccines against Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) prompted immune responses in mice and rhesus macaques, report National Institutes of Health scientists who designed the vaccines. ...

Can social isolation fuel epidemics?

July 21, 2015

Conventional wisdom has it that the more people stay within their own social groups and avoid others, the less likely it is small disease outbreaks turn into full-blown epidemics. But the conventional wisdom is wrong, according ...

Lack of knowledge on animal disease leaves humans at risk

July 20, 2015

Researchers from the University of Sydney have painted the most detailed picture to date of major infectious diseases shared between wildlife and livestock, and found a huge gap in knowledge about diseases which could spread ...

IBD genetically similar in Europeans and non-Europeans

July 20, 2015

The first genetic study of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) to include individuals from diverse populations has shown that the regions of the genome underlying the disease are consistent around the world. This study, conducted ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.