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Archive for December 17th, 2009

Dec 17 2009

Mobile phones track where Zanzibaris travel, as part of malaria elimination programme

Posted by: Paul Chinnock - Editorial Team

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Zanzibar has made huge strides in its efforts to control malaria and is now seeking to eliminate the disease as a public health problem. US researchers from the University of Florida are aiding the elimination campaign by following where Zanzibar people travel.

Analysing the records of mobile phone calls made by Zanzibaris, the Florida team found that most people did not leave the island; should malaria be eliminated, such people would not play a part in any subsequent re-introduction of the disease. Of those who do travel further afield, most only went as far as Dar es Salaam on the Tanzanian mainland, where they stayed just a few days. They are considered to be at relatively low risk of acquiring malaria during their travels. However, “a few hundred” Zanzibaris travel to inland parts of Tanzania which are highly endemic for the disease. They would be the most likely people to reintroduce malaria to Zanzibar.

The Florida scientists say that the Zanzibar government could choose to give residents prophylactics against malaria before they travel, or it could screen all residents as they return, both very expensive propositions. Or it could launch a targeted information and/or screening campaign aimed at the high-risk travellers. (More details in University of Florida News.)

Some of us feel uncomfortable about our mobile phone records being accessed without our permission to find out who we talk to and where we go. In this case, of course the information has been put to good use.