Universitätsmedizin Halle

The 2nd Annual Meeting of the Modeling Network for Major Infectious Diseases (MONID) at the Leopoldina

The German National Academy of Sciences, Leopoldina, hosted the “2nd National Conference on Infectious Disease Modeling”, which brought together over 150 national and international experts in Halle (Saale) to further strengthen and expand modeling expertise in the fight against infectious diseases in Germany and beyond.

The BMBF-funded Modeling Network for Major Infectious Diseases (MONID) can look back with satisfaction on three days full of exciting panel discussions, intensive talks and presentations by talented (young) modelers. From Wednesday, 13.03.2024 to Friday, 15.03.2024, more than 150 scientists gathered at the Leopoldina in Halle (Saale) or online to share their research results and discuss how modeling can be designed and communicated in the future at the “2nd National Conference on Infectious Disease Modeling”.

The conference was opened by high-profile representatives from politics and science: The Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Prof. Heike Kielstein, Parliamentary State Secretary Mario Brandenburg and the President of the Robert Koch Institute, Prof. Lars Schaade, addressed the participants. In his video message, State Secretary Mario Brandenburg affirmed that the network has successfully managed to bundle the modeling expertise on the topic of serious infectious diseases in Germany and make it visible to the outside world, so that MONID now serves as a central point of contact for science for politics and society. The representative of the BMBF as the sponsor of the network, as well as the responsible employees of the project management organization Jülich, were also able to gain an impression of the progress and success of their research funding on site.

The 2nd annual conference once again offered the unique opportunity to exchange ideas with national and international experts from the field of mathematical modeling of infectious diseases and related disciplines on the latest findings in these areas. The internationally renowned keynote speakers, Prof. Dr. Niel Hens, biostatistician from the Universities of Hasselt and Antwerp (Belgium), and Dr. Julia Fitzner, Head of the “Insights and Analytics” department at the World Health Organization (WHO), also provided exciting input for discussions. In his presentation, Niel Hens gave an impressive overview of COVID-19, from initial data to models used and back, and emphasized the global challenge of pandemics, which requires global cooperation. Julia Fitzner took stock of the global infection situation in 2023, in which not only SARS-CoV-2 but also dengue fever and the West Nile virus are playing an increasing role.

In four oral sessions, a total of 24 researchers, including 14 young scientists, presented their current research work to the audience. The topics of the exciting presentations ranged from estimating the optimal age for childhood measles vaccination, a review of quality assessment guidelines and reporting of mathematical modeling studies on infectious disease dynamics, a post-hoc analysis of Covid-19 mortality in Poland, the modeling of mass gatherings in light of potential future pandemics, a mathematical modeling of pneumococcal transmission and disease dynamics in the German population to the estimation of Covid-19 prevalence from wastewater data and the cost-effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination strategies in resource-limited settings, such asEthiopia, for example. In addition, last year’s popular format of one-minute elevator pitches was revived, in which the modelers were able to present their project in a creative way to attract the attention of the conference participants. In the subsequent poster session, 55 researchers, including 42 MONID junior scientists, took the opportunity to present their results to the modeling community in moderated poster tours and to discuss them afterwards.

Another highlight of the conference was the exchange between experts in panel sessions on three different key topics, in which the audience was actively involved in the concluding discussion round: The panel on “Contacts and Diversity in Models” offered insights into the transmission risk and drivers of epidemic dynamics through digital contact tracing and dealt with synthetic twin populations. The panel on “Adaptive Behavior in Modeling” focused on the role of behavioral responses to high case numbers in pandemics. In the last panel, the scientists addressed the topic of “Modelling and model parameterization for respiratory pathogens” and discussed, among other things, how an inverse problem – i.e. inferring an observed effect from its cause – can be solved with the help of machine learning.

This year’s conference also placed a stronger focus on young scientists in a “Young MONID Panel” of the newly founded “Young MONID Initiative” as well as planned initiatives to promote young scientists. The “Young MONID Initiative”, which was launched a few months ago, has set itself the goal of inspiring young scientists from all disciplines to model infectious diseases, as the initiative’s contact persons, Manuela Harries and Dr. Beryl Musundi, emphasize. The promotion of young modeling talent is a particular concern of the network, which is why the three best posters and, this year for the first time, the best lecture were awarded prizes.

In summary, the conference once again made it clear how important it is to create joint and sustainable structures to strengthen modeling expertise in Germany and internationally and that highly complex infection epidemiological models can only be developed in an interdisciplinary and collaborative manner in order to come one step closer to solving global health problems such as researching and combating serious infectious diseases.

Press article on health research by the BM

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