Background: Patterns of person-to-person contacts relevant for infectious diseases transmission are still poorly quantified in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where socio-demographic structures and behavioral attitudes are expected to be different from those of more developed countries.
Methods and findings: We conducted a diary-based survey on daily contacts and time-use of individuals of different ages in one rural and one peri-urban site of Manicaland, Zimbabwe. A total of 2,490 diaries were collected and used to derive age-structured contact matrices, to analyze time spent by individuals in different settings, and to identify the key determinants of individuals' mixing patterns. Overall 10.8 contacts per person/day were reported, with a significant difference between the peri-urban and the rural site (11.6 versus 10.2). A strong age-assortativeness characterized contacts of school-aged children, whereas the high proportion of extended families and the young population age-structure led to a significant intergenerational mixing at older ages. Individuals spent on average 67% of daytime at home, 2% at work, and 9% at school. Active participation in school and work resulted the key drivers of the number of contacts and, similarly, household size, class size, and time spent at work influenced the number of home, school, and work contacts, respectively. We found that the heterogeneous nature of home contacts is critical for an epidemic transmission chain. In particular, our results suggest that, during the initial phase of an epidemic, about 50% of infections are expected to occur among individuals younger than 12 years and less than 20% among individuals older than 35 years.
Conclusions: With the current work, we have gathered data and information on the ways through which individuals in SSA interact, and on the factors that mostly facilitate this interaction. Monitoring these processes is critical to realistically predict the effects of interventions on infectious diseases dynamics.