In a new study, researchers from the University of Southampton, working with the National Vector-borne Diseases Control Program in Namibia, have demonstrated how mobile phone data helps combat malaria. The data helps disease researchers and public health officials by giving them a better idea of population movements. When such data is pieced together with information on malaria diagnoses, topography and climate, experts can pinpoint malaria hotspots and act accordingly.
Malaria infects more than 500 million people each year and kills up to 3 million, most of them young children. Even though the virus has been all but defeated in the U.S. and Europe, it still harbors in some countries, especially South America and Africa. In a country like Namibia, migrating people add another threat to Malaria infection, as it can re-introduce the mosquito-borne infectious disease to a place where it previously had been eliminated or contained. That’s why governments are now looking at data from people’s movements to inform health initiatives (in as anonymous a way as possible, of course). Specifically, researchers from the University of Southampton in England have been tracing people via their phones. Andrew Tatem, one of the researchers in study, began working with the government in Zanzibar to reduce malaria in 2008.