Empowering the crowd: Feasible strategies for epidemic management in high-density informal settlements. The case of COVID-19 in Northwest Syria


Alberto Pascual-García, Jordan D Klein, Jennifer Villers, Eduard Campillo-Funollet, Chamsy Sarkis


More than 1 billion people live in informal settlements worldwide, where precarious living conditions pose unique challenges to managing a COVID-19 outbreak. Taking Northwest Syria as a case study, we simulated an outbreak in high-density informal Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps using a stochastic Susceptible-Exposed-Infectious-Recovered model. Expanding on previous studies, taking social conditions and population health/ structure into account, we modelled several interventions feasible in these settings: moderate self-distancing, self-isolation of symptomatic cases and protection of the most vulnerable in ‘safety zones’. We considered complementary measures to these interventions that can be implemented autonomously by these communities, such as buffer zones, health checks and carers for isolated individuals, quantifying their impact on the micro-dynamics of disease transmission. All interventions significantly reduce outbreak probability and some of them reduce mortality when an outbreak does occur. Self-distancing reduces mortality by up to 35% if contacts are reduced by 50%. A reduction in mortality by up to 18% can be achieved by providing one self-isolation tent per eight people. Protecting the most vulnerable in a safety zone reduces the outbreak probability in the vulnerable population and has synergistic effects with the other interventions. Our model predicts that a combination of all simulated interventions may reduce mortality by more than 90% and delay an outbreak’s peak by almost 2 months. Our results highlight the potential for non-medical interventions to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. Similar measures may be applicable to controlling COVID-19 in other informal settlements, particularly IDP camps in conflict regions, around the world.