The University of Southampton and the National Vector borne Diseases Control Programme (NVDCP) in Namibia led an international study using mobile phone data to help combat malaria more effectively.
Using mobile phone data, researchers have been able to identify geographical “hotspots” of the disease and design targeted plans for its elimination.Combining anonymized mobile records to measure population movements within the country over the period of a year (2010-11) with information about diagnosed cases of malaria, topography and climate – the researchers have been able to identify geographical “hotspots” of the disease and design targeted plans for its elimination.
According to Dr Andy Tatem, Geographer at the University of Southampton, 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,” he said. “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.”
The program will help improve targeting of malaria interventions to communities most at risk.Twelve months of anonymized Call Data Records (CDRs) were provided by service provider Mobile Telecommunications Limited (MTC) to the researchers, representing 9 billion communications from 1.19 million unique subscribers, which is 52% of the population of Namibia. Aggregated movements of mobile users between urban areas, and urban and rural areas were analyzed 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 helped the NVDCP 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.
“The use of mobile phone 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,” Dr Tatem said.