Mobile phone data is hugely valuable in providing location-based trends, but unlocking it safely and transparently takes time.

A partnership set up in 2017 proved crucial three years later in Ghana’s fight against COVID-19.

During the 2017 Ghana National Data Roadmap process, which was supported by the Global Partnership, the Ghana Statistical Services (GSS) held conversations that led to a public-private partnership with Vodafone Ghana and the Flowminder foundation, with support from the Hewlett Foundation. The partnership was intended to harness anonymized and aggregated mobile data to advance the production of official statistics. The resulting data source was to be used for insights into Ghanaians’ mobility, especially to help in public health emergency planning, disaster preparedness, and disaster response. During the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities have been using this data to inform their responses.

On March 30, 2020, Ghana closed schools, banned public gatherings, and implemented a lockdown in some major cities. By using anonymized and aggregated mobile phone call detail records, data scientists were able to produce rapid mobility estimates to gain high-level insights into how these restrictions affected people’s movements, providing a critical and timely look at the lockdown’s effectiveness.

On April 3, GSS released a report that detailed these initial insights. By looking at the change in the count of active mobile phone subscribers in various districts on a particular day, officials could monitor the volume of movements within and across districts and understand the effectiveness of the lockdown on restricting movement, which would help to stop the spread of the virus.

On May 15, GSS released a second report showing movement across the country after lockdown measures were lifted on April 20. This report found that mobility levels remained lower than before the implementation of initial restrictions. 

The Data for Good Partnerships between GSS, Vodafone, and Flowminder was formed to strengthen humanitarian and development decision-making in Ghana, and COVID-19 has proven just how important this partnership has been in this time of unprecedented crisis.

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