Although measles incidence has reached historic lows in many parts of the world, the disease still causes substantial morbidity globally. Even where control programs have succeeded in driving measles locally extinct, unless vaccination coverage is maintained at extremely high levels, susceptible numbers may increase sufficiently to spark large outbreaks. Human mobility will drive potentially infectious contacts and interact with the landscape of susceptibility to determine the pattern of measles outbreaks. These interactions have proved difficult to characterise empirically. We explore the degree to which new sources of data combined with existing public health data can be used to evaluate the landscape of immunity and the role of spatial movement for measles introductions by retrospectively evaluating our ability to predict measles outbreaks in vaccinated populations. Using inferred spatial patterns of accumulation of susceptible individuals and travel data, we predicted the timing of epidemics in each district of Pakistan during a large measles outbreak in 2012-2013 with over 30 000 reported cases. We combined these data with mobility data extracted from over 40 million mobile phone subscribers during the same time frame in the country to quantify the role of connectivity in the spread of measles. We investigate how different approaches could contribute to targeting vaccination efforts to reach districts before outbreaks started. While some prediction was possible, accuracy was low and we discuss key uncertainties linked to existing data streams that impede such inference and detail what data might be necessary to robustly infer timing of epidemics.
Keywords: Measles; Pakistan; mobility; vaccination.