Science and Technology

INTAKE: using mobility data to improve epidemiological models

The project led by professor Arlindo Oliveira was one of the winners of "RESEARCH 4 COVID19" promoted by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia.

Data is being generated at a break-neck pace and mobile phones have became our inseparable companions. In the context of a pandemic, this can be key to predict the transmission risk in each region. The project INTAKE – INtegrating mobility daTa into spAtial risK modEls aims to help improving the already existing epidemiological models that allow to predict the transmission risk in each region, by integrating individual mobility data provided by telecommunication operators.

“Operators permanently access mobile location data and known, at each moment, the approximate subscriber’s location”, explains professor Arlindo Oliveira, the project leader and INESC-ID researcher. Thus, whenever subscribers move to a new location, information is generated and registered by operators. “This information can be used without compromising anonymity or privacy, without causing any negative effects on the autonomy or behaviour of mobile phones”, explains the Técnico professor.

These individual mobility data reflect the daily, weekly and annual flow of people who move between regions and indicate the likelihood of an infected person, from a particular region, contaminating people from other regions.

Data collection from epidemiological models can provide a more clear idea of the transmission risk in each region. “People infect each other not only in households and workplaces. People spread the virus from one location to another”. The INTAKE team intends to further enrich this solution by adding additional data – such as, for example, information on the behaviours of populations regarding health activities – which may improve the quality of forecasts.

“There is a practical and a scientific interest in this project. The practical interest is to improve the forecast of the evolution of the number of cases, whether or not there is a second wave”, says the Técnico professor. At a time when the epidemiological situation in Lisbon and Vale do Tejo region is worse day after day, professor Arlindo Oliveira points out that this type of solutions may “help to clarify these worrying developments we are witnessing, probably caused by the mobility of people in the region”.

INTAKE got a €37,524 funding from “RESEARCH 4 COVID-19”. The project team is composed of researchers from INESC-ID, CERENA, LArSys, INSA and a telecommunications operator.

According to the project leader, it is very important that the health authorities have the appropriate tools to forecast epidemic scenarios. “This will improve responsiveness and test the effectiveness of possible future scenarios”, says the professor.

Considering that the problem of monitoring and controlling epidemics is multidimensional and multidisciplinary, professor Arlindo Oliveira points out: “Técnico is probably the most competent institution, at national level, in the fields of health and biotechnology, territorial modelling, data science and information systems”. “Técnico played a very important role against a common invisible enemy”.