Defeating epidemic disease with Big Data

Mobile data can predict and track the spread of epidemic diseases, according to a study by Telenor Research in cooperation with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Oxford University, the U.S. Center for Disease Control, and the University of Peshawar.

The research team found that mobile phone-based mobility estimates accurately predicted the geographic spread and timing of dengue epidemics in both recently epidemic and emerging locations. The study combined the data with dengue climate-suitability maps and estimates of seasonal dengue virus importation to generate fine-scale risk maps.

The study analysed anonymized call data records from more than 30 million Telenor Pakistan subscribers during the 2013 dengue outbreak, using the large sample to map the geographic spread and timing of the epidemic.

The resulting model is expected to contribute to the design of more efficient national response mechanisms in Pakistan and other at-risk nations, while demonstrating the potential for call records to accurately reveal mobility patterns that can help combat and predict the spread of virulent disease.

The study shows that public health professionals, data scientists, and mobile operators working together wield important weapons to fight the spread of the disease, including using Big Data to stay a step ahead of an epidemic. In this case a very large mobile data set gave study authors a bird's eye view of the human movement that drives transmission, and will help health authorities in at-risk areas put adequate countermeasures in place in anticipation of an outbreak.

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