Using wearable proximity sensors to characterize social contact patterns in a village of rural Malawi
ISI Foundation, Turin, Italy
2 Department of Economics, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
3 College of Medicine, Lilongwe, Malawi
4 University of Turin, Turin, Italy
Accepted: 30 August 2021
Published online: 8 September 2021
Measuring close proximity interactions between individuals can provide key information on social contacts in human communities and related behaviours. This is even more essential in rural settings in low- and middle-income countries where there is a need to understand contact patterns for the implementation of strategies for social protection interventions. We report the quantitative assessment of contact patterns in a village in rural Malawi, based on proximity sensors technology that allows for high-resolution measurements of social contacts. Our results revealed that the community structure of the village was highly correlated with the household membership of the individuals, thus confirming the importance of the family ties within the village. Social contacts within households occurred mainly between adults and children, and adults and adolescents and most of the inter-household social relationships occurred among adults and among adolescents. At the individual level, age and gender social assortment were observed in the inter-household network, and age disassortativity was instead observed in intra-household networks. Moreover, we obtained a clear trend of the daily contact activity of the village. Family members congregated in the early morning, during lunch time and dinner time. In contrast, inter-household contact activity displayed a growth from the morning, reaching a maximum in the afternoon.
The proximity sensors technology used in this study provided high resolution temporal data characterized by timescales comparable with those intrinsic to social dynamics and it thus allowed to have access to the level of information needed to understand the social context of the village.
Key words: Social contact patterns / Contact network / Wearable proximity sensors / Rural settings / Developing countries / Households
© The Author(s) 2021
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