Knowing how to model infectious diseases dynamics for better public health decisions
From 30 October to 4 November 2016, HKU-Pasteur Research Pole (HKU-PRP) organized the international workshop « Introduction to Modeling of Infectious Diseases » in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. In collaboration with the Training Center of the Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City, the School of Public Health of the University of Hong Kong and the Pasteur Institute in Paris, HKU-PRP gathered a team of international experts to train young researchers and health professional in the SEA region. The purpose was to address how the processing of epidemiological data allows scientists to design relevant mathematical models to simulate disease transmission in the population and virtually assess the efficiency of diverse types of public health interventions (vaccination, quarantine, prevention, vectors control...). These kind of models can be used to guide the action strategies implemented by public health authorities. Through series of lectures and hands-on applications, the participants were trained to this exciting and expanding area of research.
During 6 days, 32 students coming from 12 different countries (mainly from the SEA region) joined at the Training Center of the Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City to take part in this public health workshop organized for the 5th year in a row. A faculty composed by 9 renowned researchers gave lectures and supervised hands-on practical sessions. Joseph Wu (School of Public Health, HKU) provided the first basics of infectious diseases modeling and students worked on the transmission potential of smallpox in contemporary populations. Marc Lipsitch (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston) explained how models should incorporate the heterogeneity of hosts and how to use modeling to design and interpret complex intervention trials. Hannah Clapham (Oxford Clinical Research Unit, HCMC) gave examples of modeling vaccination. Simon Cauchemez (Institut Pasteur Paris) addressed the statistical inference and showed how to use data to estimate transmission parameters and the impact of interventions. Benjamin Cowling(School of Public Health, HKU) and Mark Jit (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine) approached the estimation of vaccines efficacy and effectiveness, taking into account health impact and economics. Marc Choisy (Oxford University Clinical Research Unit, Hanoi) focused on vector-borne disases, presented the theoretical framework and models equations and applied it to real examples with the students using R software. Tommy Lam(School of Public Health, HKU) addressed modeling on the molecular scale and showed how to model diseases transmission using pathogens genetic data.
Besides acquiring a new set of skills, the workshop also benefits the participants in developing an international scientific network and knowing the different fields of expertise of their colleagues in the region, having time to discuss with the trainers to get advices or exchange about their research projects... Not to forget making friends. For the organizers, the goal is eventually to make the participants equipped with knowledge of best public health practices and available to apply it in their own institutions for rapid coordination to a public health emergency of national or international concern.