Dr Nick Scott, Head of Modelling and Biostatistics leads a small team of mathematical modelling experts at Burnet. Nick and his team have not only played a key part in our successful response to COVID in Australia, but also against deadly diseases like malaria, HIV, TB and hepatitis C in more than 40 countries around the world.
Mathematical modelling is the process of using maths to make predictions about the real world. It helps us to understand situations, project outcomes, and therefore assist in decision-making.
In Australia, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Scott and his team were instrumental in informing the response to COVID-19.
“By creating a simplified version of the real world on our computers, we can run scenarios to see what might happen if we changed different policies at different times. This can give an indication of which options are likely to be better than others,” Dr Scott said.
“What we at Burnet did was model ways in which early restrictions could be fine-tuned to alleviate the social and economic burden of the lockdown, without compromising control of the virus.
“Now that major lockdowns are over, we are looking at how vaccine rollout can be prioritised to minimise outbreak risk, and what approaches should be taken if new cases are detected in the community.”
In Nigeria, which has the world’s highest malaria burden, Dr Scott and his team worked with health authorities to achieve the greatest impact with a very limited health budget.
“Using our models, we discovered the best mix of interventions to save thousands of lives from malaria. The results were impressive. We showed that without adding a single dollar to the health budget, approximately 15.7 million cases of malaria could be prevented over 5 years.
“The key is to tailor the combination of interventions, such as bed nets and preventative treatment, specifically to each region’s needs. Health authorities around the world are now keen to use our methods to improve the health of their communities. Through our work, thousands of lives can be saved.”
In Pakistan, the government had committed US$900 million to invest in specialised nutritious foods for children as a major initiative for preventing stunting.
Stunting is the impaired growth and development of children due to poor nutrition and repeated infection. Stunting has consequences into adulthood, with poor learning ability affecting a child’s education, resulting in low wages and lost productivity. It can also increase the risk of chronic diseases in adult life.
“Our modelling determined that if instead of focusing just on specialised nutritious foods, a percentage of this investment could be diverted and allocated across six other interventions, then the same US$900 million investment could lead to more than four times the impact. That’s an additional 230,000 children who are not affected by stunting between 2020 and 2024.”
Back in Australia, Dr Scott’s work in mathematical modelling helped to avoid a looming public health catastrophe, with the roll out of publicly subsidised treatment for hepatitis C.
“Authorities lacked evidence to take action. Through complex models, we demonstrated that it was far more cost effective to treat people in the community with expensive drugs than to deal with complex complications such as liver cirrhosis and cancer.
“Taking into consideration policy briefs prepared by myself and my team, the Australian government confirmed its commitment to provide easy and affordable access to highly effective hepatitis C drugs. Australia became one of the few countries to publicly subsidise hepatitis C treatment.
“I’ll never forget the experience as one of the most rewarding in my research career. We saw first-hand the real impact of our mathematical modelling research.”
The list of countries where mathematical modelling done by Dr Scott and his team has been applied and used to save lives grows month by month.
Your support today will go directly to Nick and his team, and through them to modelling to save lives here in Australia and around the world.
Countries where Burnet’s modelling team has made an impact.
- Cote d’Ivoire
- Papua New Guinea
- South Africa