Predicting Ebola’s spread using cell phone data

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Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) epidemiologist Caroline Buckee and her team are using cell phone data to track travel patterns across West Africa to help fight the Ebola epidemic. Such data — including unique cell phone “pings” from cell phone towers — can show where people have gone after leaving a disease hot spot, thus suggesting where a disease cluster might crop up next and where best to focus health care efforts.

Buckee, assistant professor of epidemiology at HSPH and associate director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, and her team are working with Flowminder, a Swedish nonprofit, to analyze data from Senegal and Ivory Coast provided by Orange Telecom, a West African mobile carrier. The researchers are also analyzing population movements using more conventional sources, such as surveys.

“We are planning to develop epidemiological models to estimate the cost effectiveness of containment for different scenarios of Ebola arrival in different West African countries in the next few weeks,” said Buckee.