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Sunday, February 25th, 2024

New research tackles underutilized concept of disease vulnerability

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New research from scientists at the Universities of Surrey and Cambridge has investigated a relatively undefined concept in disease research — vulnerability — and assessed it for both Ebola and Lassa fever.

Vulnerability is the assessment of a country’s ability or lack thereof to resist or respond to disasters. It is utilized in other scientific fields, but with disease management has remained somewhat untouched. The research team said that adding a vulnerability focus could help government agencies and health organizations evaluate susceptibility to outbreaks and assist planning efforts.

“The increasing danger of zoonotic diseases, such as Ebola and Lassa fever, has led to an urgent need to develop techniques to help public health practitioners evaluate how vulnerable populations are to epidemics,” said Dr. Gianni Lo Iacono, lecturer in Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the School of Veterinary Science at the University of Surrey. “Recent outbreaks of Ebola in West Africa have shown the devastating and long-lasting impact outbreaks of disease can have on populations. This model will help government and aid agencies identify regions that are struggling to cope with a disease outbreak.”

The new methodology monitors the number of survivors of an outbreak. Through a mathematical formula, they factored in those survivors to determine a degree of vulnerability in a given area. This is the model they applied to Ebola and Lassa fever — specifically with cases from Lassa epidemics in Nigeria (2017 – 2018) and Sierra Leone (2008 – 2012), as well as a 2013-2016 Sierra Leone Ebola epidemic.

They determined that confirmed cases do not make for the most vulnerable state as the status and properties can change during an outbreak. Researchers next hope to learn how relevant environmental and socio-economic indicators might affect vulnerability and how to potentially reduce it.