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Researchers Use Cell Phone Data To Track Malaria Spread In Kenya

“Harvard researchers found they could track the spread of malaria in Kenya using phone calls and text messages from 15 million mobile phones,” ABC News’ “Medical Unit” reports (Hughes, 10/11). “This massive amount of data allowed them to create detailed maps of travel to and from malaria hotspots — and to make predictions about how human travel has affected the transmission of the disease,” Scientific American’s “Observations” blog notes (Harmon, 10/11). “By tracking the population’s movement over a year using cell phone data and comparing it with detailed information on malaria infection rates across the country, the study reveals how human travel contributes to the disease’s spread,” CNN writes, adding, “The study, led by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and seven other institutions, could inform how governments — particularly in sub-Saharan Africa — act in the future to control the disease’s spread” (Smith-Spark, 10/13).

“‘Mapping the routes of parasite dispersal by human carriers will allow for additional targeted control by identifying the regions where imported infections originate and where they may contribute substantially to transmission,’ the researchers wrote,” according to the “Observations” blog. “New control efforts could include boosting surveillance in these places, improving communication about risk of travel to these areas, and perhaps even sending text messages to travelers if they are visiting a high-risk region,” the blog writes (10/11). Senior author Caroline Buckee “said there has been interest from other researchers in applying this method to studies of dengue, another mosquito-borne disease that tends to show up in tropical countries,” Discovery News notes (Emspak, 10/11).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.