Existing human mobility data sources poorly predicted the spatial spread of SARS-CoV-2 in Madagascar.


For emerging epidemics such as the COVID-19 pandemic, quantifying travel is a key component of developing accurate predictive models of disease spread to inform public health planning. However, in many LMICs, traditional data sets on travel such as commuting surveys as well as non-traditional sources such as mobile phone data are lacking, or, where available, have only rarely been leveraged by the public health community. Evaluating the accuracy of available data to measure transmission-relevant travel may be further hampered by limited reporting of suspected and laboratory confirmed infections. Here, we leverage case data collected as part of a COVID-19 dashboard collated via daily reports from the Malagasy authorities on reported cases of SARS-CoV-2 across the 22 regions of Madagascar. We compare the order of the timing of when cases were reported with predictions from a SARS-CoV-2 metapopulation model of Madagascar informed using various measures of connectivity including a gravity model based on different measures of distance, Internal Migration Flow data, and mobile phone data. Overall, the models based on mobile phone connectivity and the gravity-based on Euclidean distance best predicted the observed spread. The ranks of the regions most remote from the capital were more difficult to predict but interestingly, regions where the mobile phone connectivity model was more accurate differed from those where the gravity model was most accurate. This suggests that there may be additional features of mobility or connectivity that were consistently underestimated using all approaches, but are epidemiologically relevant. This work highlights the importance of data availability and strengthening collaboration among different institutions with access to critical data - models are only as good as the data that they use, so building towards effective data-sharing pipelines is essential.

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