COVID-19 is continuing to spread across the world at a rapid rate. By 30 April 2020, the pandemic had affected at least 185 countries/regions, with more than 4 million confirmed cases and in excess of 200,000 deaths globally. The pandemic has presented a myriad of challenges for health care systems around the world, including pressures on health care staff, general hospital beds, intensive care capacity and specialized equipment. In addition to the health effects of the disease, lockdown measures to contain the disease have placed a significant economic burden on countries and communities. Policymakers must balance curtailing the negative health effects of the pandemic against minimizing the economic impact on societies, calibrating these decisions for the epidemiological, social, cultural and infrastructure context of an individual country. There is currently no treatment or vaccine for COVID-19, so countries that choose to try to interrupt its spread must rely on non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs); these NPIs fall into various categories of behaviour change, including self-isolation for symptomatic individuals, increased hand hygiene, and physical distancing in social settings.
The COVID-19 International Modelling Consortium (CoMo Consortium) was created by researchers at the University of Oxford together with academic colleagues at Cornell University and is partnering with infectious disease modellers and other public health experts from more than 40 countries across Africa, Asia, and South and North America. The CoMo Consortium uses a participatory approach to provide decision-making support to policymakers, using evidence from epidemiological and economic models adapted to each country’s context.
The CoMo Consortium has developed an age-structured, compartmental SEIR (susceptible-exposed-infectious-recovered) model to estimate the trajectory of COVID-19 based on different scenarios and to assess the potential impact of the various NPIs, as well as treatments and vaccines, when they become available. A user-friendly, web-based interface enables training on and use of the model by member modelling groups, while dashboards and visualization tools allow policymakers to see the predicted impacts of different NPIs in real time. The CoMo Consortium comprises several working groups, with each group playing a specific role, as outlined below.
CoMo Consortium working groups
- Policy support. Facilitating a direct link between the modellers (from multiple countries) involved in developing the models and interpreting their outputs, the in-country experts and the policymakers in each country.
- Model development. Writing, coding, debugging and updating the primary model structure.
- Interface development. Creating a web-based interface that enables non-modellers to run the models, based on their local parameters.
- Economic modelling. Conducting modelling to assess the economic costs and impacts arising from an intervention or a suite of interventions.
- Evidence synthesis. Combining scientific evidence relating to the COVID-19 pandemic with model projections, economics and financing to create evidence-based policy briefs.
- Outreach and communications. Engaging both in-country experts and policymakers who are seeking additional modelling support to deal with their specific COVID-19 situation.
CoMo Consortium model outputs
The predictions of the model can enable policymakers to make data-based decisions to inform their public health responses, such as:
- The impact of the various mitigation strategies on virus transmission, mechanisms for ‘flattening he epidemic curve’, lockdown release strategies, and deciding which interventions will be most effective in their specific context.
- The comparative demand for general hospital beds and ICU beds under different intervention strategies.
- The quantity of tests, personal protective equipment, ventilators and other supportive tools needed for the diagnosis and treatment of patients with COVID-19, and the costs of the equipment needed.
The CoMo Consortium model is currently being used around the world to facilitate policy discussions and shape intervention strategies. It is also being modified for local purposes by the in-country teams and being used as a comparator with existing in-country models.
- Thank you Rima Shretta for this text and images
What is mathematical modeling and how can it help control the COVID-19 pandemic?
Video produced by WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region