Mobile phone data helps combat malaria

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

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Sri Lanka celebrates two years without malaria

3 hours ago

Sri Lanka has not reported a local case of malaria since October 2012, according to the Sri Lankan Anti-Malarial Campaign. If it can remain malaria-free for one more year, the country will be eligible to apply to the World ...

Poll: Many doubt hospitals can handle Ebola

7 hours ago

A new poll finds most Americans have some confidence that the U.S. health care system will prevent Ebola from spreading in this country, but they're not so sure their local hospital can safely handle a patient.

Number of Ebola cases nears 10,000

7 hours ago

The number of people with Ebola is set to hit 10,000 in West Africa, the World Health Organization said, as the scramble to find a cure gathered pace.

User comments