Modelling approaches to tackle neglected tropical diseases - meeting report

On 8 February, the RSS Merseyside Local Group hosted our first event of 2023, in which we welcomed speakers from four institutions across the North West to discuss how statistical modelling can address ‘neglected tropical diseases’, a diverse set of infections that affect communities in poverty. The event was attended by 20 in-person at the University of Liverpool and was broadcast live to the RSS Merseyside YouTube channel, where the recording is available to watch.

The first half of our event focused on modelling strategies for vector-borne viruses, which brings challenges of requiring multidisciplinary data. Dr Jennifer Lord (Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine) presented mathematical model frameworks for ‘Identifying sources of transmission for zoonotic mosquito-borne viruses’, emphasising the large impacts of heterogeneity and mosquito host preferences on ultimate model dynamics. Dr Jack Pilgrim (University of Liverpool) then asked ‘Usutu virus: a new vector-borne threat to the UK?’ in a project predicting spatial outbreak risk based on information gained from mosquito feeding experiments in the lab. A similar approach was used to map Zika virus during the large 2015-16 outbreak.

The second half of our event focused on modelling strategies for parasitic worms, which typically have complex biological life cycles. Dr Olatunji Johnson (University of Manchester) discussed ‘Geostatistical methods for efficient safety assessment of Ivermectin in Loa loa endemic areas’ of Gabon and showed that even when information is limited, spatial modelling can be used to support policy decisions about mass drug administration in resource-poor settings. Dr Claudio Fronterre then gave a different example in ‘Joint geostatistical modelling of lymphatic filariasis antigenaemia and microfilariae prevalence’, probabilistically combining more detailed microscopy diagnostics with binary but more widely available antigen tests (not unlike those used for COVID-19). This approach allows efficient estimation of areas where eliminating the causative filarial worms is feasible.

Each talk was followed by audience questions and a range of topics was discussed including the scale of data necessary for these models and how they can be connected to policy in practice. Collectively, this event showcased the hard work of many public health consortia in moving to treat and eliminate these under-recognised infections that have huge impacts on their local communities.

The RSS Merseyside Local Group’s next event will be a special event on the Eurovision Song Contest in late April to celebrate Liverpool acting as the host city on behalf of Ukraine. We plan to host further hybrid events in the year, including talks on the topic of AI in Computer Games.

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