Scientists Use Phones to Track Malaria

November 19, 2012

Unlocking Word Meanings
Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

1. endemic (adj.) 
[en-dem-ik] – exists or occurs only in a particular place
Example:   Malaria, a disease carried by mosquitoes, is endemic in warm, tropical countries.

2. hitch a ride (idiom) [hich][a][rahyd] – to get a ride on something that passes by (car, motorbike, etc.)
Example: The backpacker hitched a ride on a passing vehicle.

3. asymptomatic (adj.) [ey-simp-tuh-mat-ik, ey-simp-] – showing no signs of sickness
Example: She didn’t know that she was sick because she was asymptomatic.

4. migration (n.) [mahy-grey-shuhn] – moving from one place to another
Example: The migration of people from rural areas to cities is increasing every year.

5. bed net (n.) [bed][net] – a thin fabric put over the bed to protect people from mosquitoes
Example: The mother put a bed net over her child’s crib.

Read the text below.
Malaria, a disease people get from mosquitoes, causes almost one million deaths globally each year. To control the disease, scientists are now using mobile phone data to track and prevent its spread in endemic nations.

Malaria-carrying mosquitoes cannot travel long distances, but they can hitch a ride in travelers’ luggage. Asymptomatic people who come from areas where malaria is endemic can also pass the disease to healthy people living in places where malaria is not common.

Caroline Buckee, an assistant professor at Harvard University’s School of Public Health, says the researchers are currently studying how human migration affects the spread of malaria.

She adds that the movement of populations cannot be studied well using traditional methods like census and road networks. But data from mobile phone use may provide a better way to analyze people’s movement.

Researchers from Harvard recently studied mobile phone data of 15 million mobile phone users in Kenya, where some areas are endemic to malaria. The scientists discovered that malaria starts near the country’s Lake Victoria and spreads east to the capital city, Nairobi, because of the number of people moving there.

The researchers studied phone transmissions (signals from calls, texts, e-mails, etc.) to learn where users traveled and how long users were away from home. After, researchers   calculated the users’ chances of getting the disease.

Buckee says data from mobile phones can be used to help fight malaria. For example, travelers passing endemic areas can be warned through text messages reminding them to use bed nets and to be extra careful, since people may be asymptomatic to the disease.

Viewpoint Discussion
Enjoy a discussion with your tutor. 

Discussion A

·         Why is it important to know how diseases spread?
·         How can technology be used to protect people from diseases and other dangers?

Discussion B

·          What common diseases in your country should scientists study more? Please explain your answer,
·         Can you think of simple but effective ways how people can fight diseases?


November 19, 2012