The Vodafone Foundation has announced a pioneering programme to use mobile data in Ghana to track and control epidemics such as Ebola.

Vodafone, which says the programme is one of the first of its kind in the world, will use aggregated anonymised mobile data to track real-time trends in population movement.

According to Vodafone, the programme is a good example of how big data can be used to gather valuable insights, which the government of Ghana could apply to a number of health and other sustainable development challenges.

The level of activity at each mobile phone mast can provide a ‘heat map’ of where people are and how far they are moving during an outbreak, while aggregated anonymised data can be used by the Ghanaian government  for decision-making in a number of areas – including health, agriculture and transportation.

The Vodafone Foundation said analysis of such data could provide potentially life-saving insights during an epidemic, such as the 2014 Ebola outbreak across West Africa.

“Mobile technology can enable access to large-scale aggregated anonymised data about human behaviour and the ability to examine the mobility of an entire population. As we can now measure human mobility, it is possible to model how infections spread. This has the potential to save thousands of lives,” said Vodafone Group External Affairs Director, Joakim Reiter.

The programme will be funded by the Vodafone Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, one of the largest philanthropic foundations in the US. They will fund the work of a team of data scientists from not-for-profit organisation Flowminder.

Vodafone Ghana will provide information to the Ghana statistical service which will then be shared with other government departments to allow them to “allocate resources more efficiently and identify the areas at increased risk of new outbreaks”.

Vodafone said data being gathered would not breach any privacy or data protection laws.

“The Vodafone Foundation programme will work in line with Vodafone’s global privacy principles, GSMA data protection guidelines and Ghanaian data protection regulations,” according to a statement issued by Vodafone.

The project, which will launch later this year, will use mobile data alongside epidemiological data to help manage any future health challenges.

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