By Amy Wesolowski, Caroline Buckee, Linus Bengtsson, Erik Wetter, Xin Lu, and Andy Tatem. 

Abstract

The ongoing Ebola outbreak is taking place in one of the most highly connected and densely populated regions of Africa.

Accurate information on population movements is valuable for monitoring the progression of the outbreak and predicting its future spread, facilitating the prioritization of interventions and designing surveillance and containment strategies. Vital questions include how the affected regions are connected by population flows, which areas are major mobility hubs, what types of movement typologies exist in the region, and how all of these factors are changing as people react to the outbreak and movement restrictions are put in place.

Just a decade ago, obtaining detailed and comprehensive data to answer such questions over this huge region would have been impossible. Today, such valuable data exist and are collected in real-time, but largely remain unused for public health purposes – stored on the servers of mobile phone operators.

In this commentary, we outline the utility of CDRs for understanding human mobility in the context of the Ebola, and highlight the need to develop protocols for rapid sharing of operator data in response to public health emergencies.

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