News / USA

Mobile Phones Used to Track Malaria Transmission Patterns

A mother holds her baby as she receives a new malaria vaccine at the Walter Reed Project Research Center in Kenya, October 30, 2009.
A mother holds her baby as she receives a new malaria vaccine at the Walter Reed Project Research Center in Kenya, October 30, 2009.
Jessica Berman
Scientists are studying the use of mobile phones to track patterns of malaria transmission in endemic nations. The research is part of an effort by many countries to control or eliminate the mosquito-borne disease.  

On their own, malaria-carrying mosquitoes can’t travel very far. But the insects that are responsible for nearly one million deaths around the world each year can, and do, hitch rides in the belongings of people who travel. Malaria can also be transmitted to healthy individuals by asymptomatic people who venture from an area where many people are sick with the disease, to a location, such as a city, where residents are seldom exposed to malarial mosquitoes.

Such is the case in Kenya, where researchers have determined the disease primarily spreads east from the country’s Lake Victoria region toward Nairobi with people who travel to the country’s capital.

Their finding is based on an analysis of the mobile phone data of 15 million Kenyan subscribers, by researchers at Harvard University's School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts. Kenya has a population of 43 million people.

Caroline Buckee says many countries are launching aggressive efforts to eliminate malaria. One of the first steps in the campaign is to figure out how human travel patterns might be contributing to its spread.  

Buckee, an assistant professor at the Harvard school, says until recently, it’s been difficult to track large population movements. Traditional methods, using census data and road networks, have not worked very well.

“But mobile phones offer a really unique way, on an unprecedented scale, to understand how a whole population is moving around,” said Buckee.

In Kenya, Buckee explains, the researchers calculated the destination and duration of each phone user's trip away from their primary home, based on transmissions to and from the mobile phone carrier’s 12,000 transmission towers.

Then, overlaying a map of malaria prevalence data in different regions of the country, researchers calculated each resident’s probability of being infected in a particular area as well as the likelihood that a visitor to that destination would become infected.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
The result was a pattern showing malaria transmission routes emanating from Lake Victoria.

Buckee says having such data could influence malaria control efforts, particularly in non-endemic regions.

“One thing you could consider is sending text messages to people coming to high risk cell towers, for example, reminding them to use a bed net," she said. "And I think those types of approaches are simple but they would hopefully target people who are asymptomatic and are unaware that they are carrying parasites, reminding them that they can still contribute to malaria in that region.”

Buckee says researchers are investigating using mobile phone records in other countries to help identify malaria transmission routes, where pockets of the disease are less obvious than in Kenya.  

An article on this approach is published in the journal Science.

You May Like

Cambodia Seeks Official UN Maps for Vietnam Border

Notice of request comes as 2 countries open border talks Tuesday after a clash last month More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deali
X
July 07, 2015 12:02 PM
If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs