Journal of Development Economics
Volume 147 November 2020
Research article Open access
Managing the spread of disease with mobile phone data
While human mobility has important benefits for economic growth, it can generate negative externalities. This paper studies the effect of mobility on the spread of disease in a low-incidence setting when people do not internalize their risks to others. Using malaria as a case study and 15 billion mobile phone records across nine million SIM cards, this paper quantifies the relationship between travel and the spread of disease. The estimates indicate that an infected traveler contributes to 1.66 additional cases reported in the health facility at the traveler’s destination. This paper develops a simulation-based policy tool that uses mobile phone data to inform strategic targeting of travelers based on their origins and destinations. The simulations suggest that targeting informed by mobile phone data could reduce the caseload by 50 percent more than current strategies that rely only on previous incidence.