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During epidemics, access to GPS data from smartphones can be crucial

Researchers from EPFL and MIT have shown that human mobility is a major factor in the spread of vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue even over short intra-city distances. In a paper published in Scientific Reports, the team compares different mobility models and concludes that having access to mobile phone location data can prove crucial in understanding disease transmission dynamics – and, ultimately, in stopping an outbreak from evolving into an epidemic. Yet, according to the researchers, this kind of information is hard to come by. They recommend bringing in new legislation to fill a legal void and enable scientists, NGOs and political decision-makers to access people’s phone location data for public health purposes. The study was lead at EPFL by Emanuele Massaro, first author and scientist at the Laboratory for Human-Environment Relations in Urban Systems (HERUS).