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‘Imperfect but useful’: pandemic response in the Global South can benefit from greater use of mathematical modelling

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Sandip Mandal, Kanchan Parchani, Nimalan Arinaminpathy, Swarup Sarkar, Balram Bhargava, Samiran Panda

Abstract

Mathematical modelling has been a helpful resource for planning public health responses to COVID-19. However, there is a need to improve the accessibility of models built within country contexts in the Global South. Immediately following the overwhelming ‘second wave’ of COVID-19 in India, we developed a user-friendly, web-based modelling simulator in partnership with the public health experts and health administrators for subnational planning. The purpose was to help policy-makers and programme officials at the state and district levels, to construct model-based scenarios for a possible third wave. Here, we describe our experiences of developing and deploying the simulator and propose the following recommendations for future such initiatives: early preparation will be the key for pandemic management planning, including establishment of networks with potential simulator users. Ideally, this preparedness should be conducted during ‘peace time’, and coordinated by agencies such as WHO. Second, flexible modelling frameworks will be needed, to respond rapidly to future emergencies as the precise nature of any pandemic is impossible to predict. Modelling resources will, therefore, need to be rapidly adaptable to respond as soon as a novel pathogen emerges. Third, limitations of modelling must be communicated clearly and consistently to end users. Finally, systematic mechanisms are required for monitoring the use of models in decision making, which will help in providing modelling support to those local authorities who may benefit most from it. Overall, these lessons from India can be relevant for other countries in the South-Asian-Region, to incorporate modelling resources into their pandemic preparedness planning.