Mobile Phone Data Can Improve Disease Response in the DRC
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) “has the third-largest population of [impoverished people] globally.” The coronavirus has hit the DRC’s economy hard, further reducing the country’s capacity to fight disease. One advancement in disease response in the DRC is the government’s use of mobile phone data for population mapping, which helps create public health policies for COVID-19 and could do the same for other prevalent diseases in the country in the future.
Ties Between Disease, War, Poverty and COVID-19 in the DRC
The DRC has historically faced challenges in combatting cholera, malaria, HIV, measles, Ebola and Rift Valley fever. Factors contributing to the challenges in combatting disease include a weak health care system, low laboratory capacity, a lack of plans regarding border lockdowns for disease containment and a lack of information about vaccination and disease prevention for the public.
Additionally, the DRC endured a civil war from 1997 to 2003. The civil war ravaged the country’s infrastructure and the ongoing political instability in the country currently poses obstacles for aid workers to safely enter the country. The effects of the civil war also reduce the government’s ability to fight prevalent diseases in the DRC.
Furthermore, in 2019, the DRC’s economic growth stood at 4.4%. After the COVID-19 pandemic began, the DRC’s economic growth shrank to 0.8% in 2020. The slowdown in economic growth has made it even more difficult for improved disease response in the DRC.
Using Mobile Phones to Combat COVID-19
Low-income countries, including the DRC, struggle with data collection. However, data collection is vital in order to provide government officials with information to make sound public health decisions. The good news is that the DRC is starting to utilize mobile phone data for population mapping to combat COVID-19, which could greatly improve the DRC’s response to other diseases as well.
Orange DRC, a telecommunications company, provides anonymized mobile phone data to a marketing company called Kinshasa Digital. Using the phone data, Kinshasa Digital is constructing a dashboard for the DRC so that health officials can follow population movement after implementing various public health policies. The dashboard is useful because it allows the government to follow the spread of COVID-19 and use this data to create policies that will be most beneficial for the public’s health.
In addition, Vodacom DRC, a mobile carrier, and Flowminder, a company that analyzes mobile data, have created a report utilizing call detail records that analyzes how population movement patterns in Kinshasa’s Gombe district have changed in response to the DRC’s COVID-19 confinement policies. The report indicates “a drop of 70% in the total flow of subscribers traveling to Gombe after the confinement,” which shows that many people are complying with the government’s policies.
The creators shared the report with government officials. Reports like these can help the government measure how effective its public health policies are. As the technology and analytics industries develop, these reports can further improve the government’s response to COVID-19 and possibly other diseases too.
The DRC faces challenges in disease response, but the current innovation with mobile phone data to create more effective COVID-19 policies shows a promising development. As mobile phone companies, analytics companies and the government continue to work together, disease response in the DRC as a whole could greatly improve.
– Anna Ryu