Migration contributes to Malaria infection, mobile data proves

A recent mobile-based survey pioneered by Harvard School of Public Health has revealed that malaria is transmitted from hot spots areas to other regions through migration.

Malaria cellphone research, conducted on close to 15 million people in Kenya using mobile phone data, tracked the movement of people from malaria-prone areas to less vulnerable ones, such as Western Kenya’s Lake Victoria region to the capital city Nairobi.

Harvard assistant professor Caroline Buckee said: “This is the first time that such a massive amount of cell phone data — from millions of individuals over the course of a year — has been used, together with detailed infectious disease data, to measure human mobility and understand how a disease is spreading.”

Malaria is passed on to humans by mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasite. The research says that people carry infections from hot regions such as Lake Victoria or the Coast to spread in Nairobi regions.

The report further reveals that Nairobi may be highly affected, despite not being prone to the malaria parasite, hence increasing local transmission.

Carnegie-Mellon doctoral student Amy Wesolowski said his team mapped every call or text made by about 14.8 million Kenyan mobile phone subscribers to one of nearly 12,000 cell towers in 692 different settlements. The method allowed them to follow the destination and duration of each trip made by people.

“As mobile phone data sets become increasingly available and representative of entire populations, we anticipate that studies like the one we present here will become common for understanding a range of different infectious diseases, as well as for gaining greater insight into human behavior on a population level,” Wesolowski said.

Malaria mobile report suggests that indoor residual spraying, vector habitat removal, insecticides, drug administration, and bed-net use should be done in areas where malaria incidences are high. In addition, visitors to such areas should take great care to avoid infection that they can get take back to their homes.

According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, some 655,000 deaths from malaria were reported across the world in 2010 from 216 million cases.

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