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AARMS-EIDM Summer School Report

AARMS-EIDM Summer School Report

Francisca Olajide (University of Ottawa)

The Atlantic Association for Research in the Mathematical Sciences and the Emerging Infectious Diseases Modelling (AARMS-EIDM) Summer School, organized by Dr. Amy Hurford (Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador) took place at Bonne Bay Marine Station, in Norris Point on the breathtaking west coast of Newfoundland, Canada between August 19 and August 31, 2023. The summer school gave 39 participants the unique opportunity to enroll in two well-structured graduate-level mathematics courses, “Mathematical Epidemiology” and “Data, Models, and Decision Support”, both taught by seasoned professors, in a highly collaborative learning environment.

AARMS-EIDM Summer School Report
Group Photo of the AARMS-EIDM Summer School Attendees.

Commencing the sessions, Dr. Amy Greer (University of Guelph) delivered an enlightening lecture on “Simple Epidemiological Models”. As a young enthusiast in infectious disease modelling, I found the teaching explicit enough for anyone aiming to connect the domains of mathematics and epidemiology. In her lecture on “Host Heterogeneity”, Dr. Greer highlighted heterogeneity in disease transmission and used the concept of the “WAIFW (Who-Acquires-Infection-From-Whom)” matrix to have participants see how incorporating heterogeneity in models helps to better understand disease dynamics and to estimate quantities such as age-dependent forces of infection.

During one of her sessions, Dr. Jane Heffernan (York University) presented a seemingly straightforward, yet thought-stimulating question: “Why make models?” Dr. Heffernan connected Fibonacci numbers, animal coats, and fractals to the notion of understanding patterns in the world around us. This connection highlighted an underlying rationale for making models. She further taught on in-host models, multi-pathogen models, and evolution, highlighting how these kind of models can help us to better understand complexities in disease dynamics.

Dr. James Watmough (University of New Brunswick) took us further from models to forecasting. Dr. Watmough stated that forecasting is a scientific method; using the logistic growth equation, he demonstrated how to incorporate probabilistic components to quantify uncertainties in process and observation. Furthermore, he underscored the necessity of associating any valuable prediction with an assessment of its accuracy and reliability. In the context of infectious disease modelling, participants gained insight into addressing diverse sources of uncertainty that could arise from modelling disease dynamics, parameter selection, and making predictions.

Continuing from there, Dr. Amy Hurford delved into characterizing uncertainties. Dr. Hurford demonstrated the techniques for sensitivity analysis and uncertainty analysis, including Latin Hypercube Sampling and Monte Carlo simulations. She also covered the topic of “Decision Support”, emphasizing the significant role of modelling in estimating the potential outcomes of decisions through relevant case studies.

Dr. Julien Arino gave an introduction to “Stochastic epidemiological models”, illustrating why stochasticity matters by making a distinction between what the basic reproduction number conveys, in both deterministic and stochastic contexts. Dr. Arino demonstrated how to use the Gillespie algorithm to simulate Continuous-time Markov chains (CTMC), a commonly used stochastic system. Additionally, he provided insights into the spatio-temporal spread of diseases, highlighting mobility as a key driver, using case studies of the Black Death and SARS-CoV-1.

The Summer School also featured talks from guest lecturers. Dr. Bouchra Nasri (One Health Modelling Network for Emerging Infections, Université de Montreal) discussed the vision for building a One Health data portal, based on a data source, documentation, and modelling approach to foster collaboration among researchers, public health agencies, and other relevant stakeholders. Dr. Steve Walker (McMaster University) discussed the International Infectious Disease Data Archive, which integrates historical and publicly available incidence, mortality, and population data. Dr. Brenda Wilson (Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador) discussed decision-making in healthcare from both clinical and policy perspectives. In her words, “Not making a decision is an action”, while stating that it is important to understand how to manage uncertainty and urgency. Dr. Edward Thommes (Sanofi Pasteur, University of Guelph) took us through the process of building ensemble forecasts by combining individual forecasts, using a case study of seasonal influenza forecasts in Ontario.

The course content was extensive, and the instructors also did an excellent job integrating making models, handling uncertainties, and decision-making. They were very comfortable with questions from participants, which made the learning atmosphere even more warm and conducive for further discussions on class materials or research interests. Indeed, the summer school was an intensive 12 days of learning epidemiological concepts, advanced mathematical techniques, statistical methods, and computational skills, needed to holistically tackle infectious disease concerns.

Participants also had the opportunity to effectively apply tools and techniques learned in the summer school courses to collaboratively work on innovative projects aimed at advancing infectious disease modelling. This is particularly significant due to the diverse academic backgrounds of the participants, enabling them to cross-pollinate ideas, combine interdisciplinary insights, and effectively address infectious disease questions. Ultimately, this experience has better equipped participants with the skills and tools needed for infectious disease modelling to support decision-making in public health.

Participants working on group projects.

On the side, participants had the chance to explore some of the attractions in and around Norris point. While some participants hiked the 7.7 km out-and-back Tablelands trail, others did the 11.7 km Tablelands off-trail loop. The hike was a highlight of the summer school, as it allowed participants to bond and experience the geological diversity of the Tablelands trail. Some of the participants explored the Bonne Bay Marine Station Aquarium while the more adventurous ones went on the Western Brook Pond Tour. “The summer school was definitely a unique and enjoyable experience,” remarked Qiuyi Su, a postdoctoral researcher from York University.

In an interview with CBC Newfoundland Morning, Dr. Amy Hurford stated that the choice of having the summer school at Bonne Bay Marine Station was to bring together and equip the next round of young infectious disease modelling researchers in an environment that allows for connection, collaboration, innovation, and community building. Indeed, from having dinner together to working on group projects and sharing research interests, participants built strong connections among themselves. “The summer school did not only teach us how to build models to solve infectious disease problems, but also how to connect, collaborate, and build relationships”, wrote George Adu-Boahen, a master’s student from Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, in his feedback.

Being a part of the summer school was an unforgettable experience, and we would like to express gratitude to all who made it possible. The summer school was supported by the Atlantic Association for Research in the Mathematical Sciences (AARMS), Mathematics for Public Health, the Canadian Network for Modelling Infectious Diseases, the One Health Modelling Network for Emerging Infections, Memorial University, and the Canadian Centre for Disease Modelling. A big thank you to Dr. Amy Hurford for organizing such an incredible event. Further information about the summer school can be found here: https://ahurford.github.io/aarms-summer-school/index.html

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