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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Analysts Warn of Regional Proxy Conflict in Afghanistan

Analysts warn if Kabul’s neighbors do not start to cooperate, competing desires for influence could deteriorate into a bloody proxy war in the country More

Saudi Intelligence Chief Resigns

Bandar bin Sultan came under criticism for supporting al Qaida, prompting King Abdallah to wrest Syria operations away from him in February, handing them to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef More

Poetry Magazine editor Don Share talks what makes a good poem with VOA's David Byrd

What makes a good poem? And is poetry as viable an art form as it once was? To find out, VOA's David Byrd spoke to Don Share, the editor of Poetry Magazine. More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid