Collecting and analyzing information from simple cell phones can provide surprising insights into how people move about and behave—and even help us understand the spread of diseases.
At a computer in her office at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, epidemiologist Caroline Buckee points to a dot on a map of Kenya’s western highlands, representing one of the nation’s thousands of cell-phone towers. In the fight against malaria, Buckee explains, the data transmitted from this tower near the town of Kericho has been epidemiological gold.
When she and her colleagues studied the data, she found that people making calls or sending text messages originating at the Kericho tower were making 16 times more trips away from the area than the regional average. What’s more, they were three times more likely to visit a region northeast of Lake Victoria that records from the health ministry identified as a malaria hot spot. The tower’s signal radius thus covered a significant waypoint for transmission of malaria, which can jump from human to human via mosquitoes. Satellite images revealed the likely culprit: a busy tea plantation that was probably full of migrant workers. The implication was clear, Buckee says. “There will be a ton of infected [people] there.”
Via Ashish Umre