A York University mathematician has received nearly half a million dollars from the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) to better predict and assess future outbreaks of mpox and other zoonotic threats (infectious diseases that jump from animals to humans).
Woldegebriel Assefa Woldegerima, an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics in the Faculty of Science, will use epidemiological and geospatial models including mathematical and artificial intelligence-based models to study epidemiology, transmission dynamics and immunology and intervention strategies to forecast the effectiveness of prevention and control strategies for mpox and other zoonotic diseases in Canada and around the world.
“We are not safe from emerging or re-emerging diseases including animal-to-human spillovers,” said Woldegerima. “Our research will provide valuable insights for preventive public health strategies and help governments be better prepared to manage and respond to an epidemic or pandemic threat in the future.”
Mpox, more commonly known as monkeypox, is a virus spread through close contact including sexual interactions and is typically found in parts of central and western Africa. The 2022 outbreak was reported in early May that year. A total of 87,479 cases, including 140 deaths, have been confirmed in 111 countries as of May 2023, according to the World Health Organization.
Woldegerima and his research team will conduct risk-map assessments, geospatial analysis and machine learning to identify hotspots for potential outbreaks around the world. In addition, their research will use biobehavioural data and results of a survey by the Centre for Disease Control that involved men who have sex with men – a population considered at higher risk for infection – to examine control measures, risk factors and the impact mpox has had on sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections.
These various data sources will allow the researchers to extend their mathematical models for the first time to account for how the virus has disproportionately affected people living with HIV, who make up almost half of the global cases, and to better understand how HIV stigma and discrimination may impede public health interventions.
The work will provide new training opportunities for postdoctoral researchers and undergraduate students in the Faculty of Science and builds on York University’s expertise in the mathematical modelling of infectious diseases. York is among the top institutions in Canada for publications on COVID-19 modelling.
Woldegerima’s team for the CIHR research project includes Professors Jianhong Wu, James Orbinski, Sarah Flicker, Ali Asgary, Jude Kong, Nicola L. Bragazzi and Nickolas Ogden. The project is supported by two Organized Research Units at York, Y-EMERGE and Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research, which will provide in-kind support in the form of office space and administrative support.
Woldegerima’s project, “Modelling, predicting and risk assessment of mpox and other (re)emerging zoonotic threats to inform decision-making and public health actions,” received $480,000.