Epidemiology team

Friday, April 28, 2017

Emerging researchers take the spotlight as keynote speakers at IDM’s 5th Annual Disease Modeling Symposium

This year, IDM’s Annual Disease Modeling Symposium included a keynote session that featured the work of emerging researchers from a variety of fields within global health. Sponsored in part by PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, the session highlighted the impressive research conducted by these early career scientists, and provided an opportunity for them to connect to prominent scientists in their fields. Included in the session was Mable Jerop, a monitoring and evaluation expert for the Global Fund Malaria grant under Amref Health Africa in Kenya; Alicia Kraay, a doctoral student in Epidemiology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Isaac Lyatuu, a research scientist in the Data Systems Unit of the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania; and Ayesha Mahmud, a doctoral student in Demography at Princeton University.

The talks ranged across a variety of research in global health topics, all focusing on one (or more) of the seven deadly diseases that served as the main focus of the Symposium.

To lead off the session, Mable Jerop presented “Time series analysis of trends in community case management of malaria intervention in Kenya.” Her work described the challenges faced by resource-poor settings for the prompt diagnosis and treatment of malaria, and how a strategy utilizing community health volunteers may serve to alleviate some of the burdens. Overall, she found that malaria cases that were managed at the household level are increasing, but that the trend varies across locations.  Importantly, her work demonstrated a clear need for the incorporation of modeling into health programs to better help with forecasting and planning efforts.

Next to present was Alicia Kraay, who discussed “Modeling the role of temperature in environmentally-mediated rotavirus transmission.” Alicia’s work addressed the question of whether environmental transmission through water sources can be an important driver for rotavirus transmission. As rotavirus can persist in water sources, she sought to determine whether there are relationships between temperature and environmental conditions on the persistence of rotavirus in the environment. Overall, the results from her meta-analysis of literature and subsequent modeling demonstrated that both direct and indirect transmission pathways are important drivers of rotavirus infection. Further, water sources serve as an important risk for rotavirus, and should not be overlooked in epidemiological studies. Degree of urbanization (and correlated water use), as well as seasonal changes in temperature and humidity can have a large impact on how well water sources can spread rotavirus.

Isaac Lyatuu was the third keynote speaker, and he presented “Seven deadly diseases: From mortality data to disease identification, a SAVVY experience in Tanzania.” Isaac’s work addressed a major problem in Tanzania: there is no comprehensive vital events registration system, so it can be difficult to track disease-induced mortality. Without records on disease incidence and mortality, it can be extremely difficult—if not impossible—to develop effective intervention efforts.  To combat this issue, a program called SAVVY (SAmple Vital events registration with Verbal autopsY) was developed in conjunction with multiple health organizations at the national, district, and community level. The goal of SAVVY is to create a sample demographic surveillance system to monitor vital events. Isaac demonstrated that SAVVY was able to accurately track mortality, and to break it down by gender, age, disease, or other cause. This information provided valuable data on which diseases cause the largest burden on particular portions of the population; for example, malaria is the leading cause of death for children under the age of 4, and is a leading contributor to death in the age group of 5-14. However, in young adults, HIV is the leading cause of death, whereas after the age of 50 heart disease takes over.  These results demonstrate the dire need for information dissemination, and helped to create a system which integrates feedback into district health authorities. Ultimately, SAVVY has created a system that will improve public health practices and help divert resources to the sources in which they will be most useful.

Closing the session was speaker Ayesha Mahmud, who presented “Drivers of seasonal transmission of childhood infections in Mexico.” Ayesha’s work examined the social and environmental conditions that drive transmission of common childhood diseases, such as measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, and scarlet fever.  Using a time-series susceptible-infected-recovered (TSIR) model, she demonstrated that five of the six diseases (all but varicella) follow seasonal transmission patterns that correlate with school terms. Further, for varicella, transmission correlates with humidity but not temperature (lower humidity is associated with higher transmission). Interestingly, the model Ayesha created can develop projections for 2070-2100 to look for predicted mean change in incidence. Ayesha’s work has clear public health implications: climate change could lead to seasonal shifts in varicella cases.

Overall, the session was a success. Few conferences provide such a large spotlight to emerging researchers, and the presenters were able to capitalize on this opportunity. Conference attendees were impressed with the level of work from these early-career scientists, and the presenters themselves felt fortunate for the attention. From Mable Jerop, “I am grateful to IDM organizers for the opportunity to speak at the 5th Annual Disease Modeling Symposium as an emerging scientist. The interaction and networking with global expertise in modeling was empowering for me, I look forward to further collaborations in this field.” And from Isaac Lyatuu, “The IDM Symposium 2017 was a tremendous opportunity that I am thankful to have attended. It was well organized in terms of both logistics, location, domain of the participants and content of the symposium. I met very wonderful people, very kind and very knowledgeable. They were many opportunities listen, share, learn and interact. This was so good. Given the opportunity to present was also a very great opportunity. I received very valuable feedback that added value to my understanding. In addition, the Symposium also gave birth to potential future collaboration. This is a very good indicator for my profession, career and academic development.” The format even surprised the attendees, but they were quickly won over. From Alicia Kraay, When I first heard that I would be a part of a session just for students, I assumed that I was being put there because my work had a lower priority than that of the senior researchers attending the conference. I worried that other attendees would not come to a student session.  However, the session actually provided a much more visible venue for my work and gave me the opportunity to engage with a much more interdisciplinary audience than I would have had the opportunity to talk with if I had presented in a subgroup session. The audience asked a number of insightful questions that have helped strengthen my manuscript and that I hope will expedite the review process when we submit the final version in the next few weeks. Because of the visibility of the session, I had numerous senior researchers come to talk to me afterwards, giving me the opportunity to more easily dialogue with pioneering researchers who I might otherwise have been too intimidated to approach. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have spoken in this session. This year's Institute for Disease Modeling Symposium was the most exciting and productive conference of my career thus far.”