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Clever use of mobile phone data to better control malaria?

December 11, 2009 - 08:22 -- Bart G.J. Knols

Andy Tattem and colleagues published a really interesting study in the Malaria Journal yesterday. They conclude from the study that anonymous mobile phone records provide valuable information on human movement patterns in areas that are typically data-sparse. Estimates of human movement patterns from Zanzibar to mainland Tanzania suggest that imported malaria risk from this group is heterogeneously distributed; a few people account for most of the risk for imported malaria.

In combination with spatial data on malaria endemicity and transmission models, movement patterns derived from phone records can inform on the likely sources and rates of malaria importation. Such information is important for assessing the feasibility of malaria elimination and planning an elimination campaign.


But then one wonders. Is such information really needed if it comes to eliminating malaria from Zanzibar? What could have been learned from places like Mauritius that manage the influx of Plasmodium carriers very well and have not had a falciparum outbreak for decades? Clearly the Mauritians are on top of this, and did and do not need data from telephone companies. They just do it, and do it well. Admittedly, the distance from mainland Tanzania to Zanzibar is much smaller than mainland Africa (or Madagascar) to Mauritius, but still, there will be a lot of sea and air transport reaching Mauritius with potential parasite carriers.


Phone data may indeed support the better understanding of the risks for parasite introduction from mainland Tanzania to Zanzibar. Beyond that, it is down to the hard work of case management and vector control. Eliminating malaria from Zanzibar and the Dar region would significantly reduce the risk of re-introduction of the disease back to the island, so malaria in Dar and its surroundings may be the key to success.


Usa Lek-Uthai's picture
Submitted by Usa Lek-Uthai on

I had created a project on topic Mobile Rapid Data Collection and Emergency Referral System for Severe Malaria/Dengue Fever Case Threat Management after a Tsunami Disaster (Thailand) (since 7 Jan2005) with Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) (Dr Kiyoshi Honda). The main objective of the project is to develop a mobile rapid data collection and referral systems and to update emergency and severity patients and also priority of disaster information’s on a server in real time. Recently, mobile devices such as PDA, Mobile Phones, GPS, which can be connected each other easily, are becoming available in the market. Internet connection through mobile phone is available (such as GPRS ). AIT has been developing a WMS(Web Map Service) Server for geo-spatial information sharing. This Service provides engineers, decision makers and people with opportunity to view and share geo-spatial information such as remote sensing images before and after the disaster, other maps such as road networks, public facilities and so on, which helps also rescue worker to obtain necessary information immediately. To complete the WMS Server, AIT has been developing a mobile device system and demonstrating the usefulness of the system. The system has capability to locate itself at the field, request GIS data or Remote Sensing images from the WMS server, and also update the database at server side. The information from the mobile devices at the server side will be shared over the internet or shared among mobile devices. This system will be extremely useful for rescue tasks, because the information that has been updated without delay can be shared among rescue workers immediately: as a referral system. The request from the site, hospitals can update the list of request on the server immediately as well. Hospitals will be able to see, how many and where the ambulances are. Higher level GIS can work behind of the system so to provide higher GIS capabilities such as the shortest route finding, nearest and appropriate hospital findings as well. Also optimum routes to provide medical resources to hospitals can be found. This proposal that i had wrote did not get funding from the grant host, so for these concept, might be helpful for the interesting people that i could share:))


Usa Lek-Uthai,
Mahidol University,
Bangkok, Thailand