A pioneer mobile phone research to map the spread of malaria in the country has shown the disease is moving from danger zones like Lake Victoria and Coast areas to central highlands like Nairobi.
Carried out between June 2008 and June 2009 researchers from Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), Wellcome Trust Research Programme, Harvard School of Public Health and six other institutions said the findings can be used to fight malaria in the country.
“The analysis provided in the journal ‘Science’ shows how we might use this information to mitigate and prepare areas subjected to the highest imported infection risk like Nairobi,” Dr Abdisalan Noor from KEMRI says.
The research mapped every call or text made by each of 14, 816, 521 Kenyan mobile phone subscribers to one of 11, 920 cell towers located in 692 different settlements and every time an individual left his or her primary settlement, the destination and duration of each journey was calculated.
This way the research didn’t factor only on information about the location of mosquitoes that carry malaria parasite but also behavior of people who can be infected through resident's probability of being infected and the daily probability that visitors travelling to particular areas would become infected.
An online press release by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) says the study enabled the researchers to build a map of parasite movements between 'source' areas like coast and lake Victoria area which mostly emit disease, and 'sink' areas like Nairobi, which mostly receive disease.
"As Kenya begins to succeed in reducing malaria transmission in some areas but not others, cell-phone mapping of human movement between high and low-risk regions becomes a valuable planning tool," Professor Bob Snow, KEMRI-University of Oxford-Wellcome Trust Collaborative Programme said.
"Since many infected people have no symptoms, they can unintentionally carry the parasite during their travels and infect hundreds of others," he adds.
Lead researcher Prof Caroline Buckee who is an HSPH assistant professor of epidemiology, say the pioneer research through the geographic spread of the disease will understand the spread of malaria to improve traditional approaches to malaria control, which involve focusing on reducing disease in particular areas, are not sufficient.
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“The information available from this research will help public health officials decide where and how to control imported cases of malaria. For instance, official could send text message warning to the phones of people travelling to high risk areas, suggesting that they use a bed net,” Prof Buckee says.
According to Buckee, Kenya was chosen as the subject of this study because its level of malaria prevalence is very geographically varied, it has excellent data on the disease’s spread, and nearly all Kenyans have cell phones.
The same method of harnessing mobile data was copied from Haiti to map how people where moving around after earth quake.
Malaria kills about 1 million people each year and threatens 40 million globally. Of those affected, 95 per cent are children under five in sub-Saharan Africa, report said.
© Manuel Odeny, 2012