26 August 2015 Volume :3 Issue :39

UKZN Hosts Workshop on Modelling for Tick-Borne Diseases

UKZN Hosts Workshop on Modelling for Tick-Borne Diseases
Participants at the second workshop on modelling for tick-borne diseases.

UKZN’s School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (SMSCS) hosted the second Siyacabanga (isiZulu for ‘we think’) two-day workshop on the topic of ticks and tick-borne diseases, attracting a diverse group of participants who learned about and participated in mathematical modelling in relation to ticks and tick-borne diseases.

The workshop was organised by the Dean and Head of the SMSCS, Professor Kesh Govinder, Dean and Head of the School of Life Sciences, Professor Sam Mukaratirwa, and visiting Professor Holly Gaff of Old Dominion University (ODU) in Virginia in the United States, who is spending seven months with the SMSCS on sabbatical.

During her time at UKZN, Gaff, who is also an Honorary Associate Professor of SMSCS, is continuing her research on the mathematical modelling of various aspects of ticks and the pathogens they carry.

The workshop featured presentations from Gaff and Professor Sam Mukaratirwa, as well as an introduction to local challenges by Professor Abdalla Latif, Programme Manager for Parasites, Vectors and Vector-borne Diseases at the Agricultural Research Council’s (ARC) Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute. The programme included brainstorming and modelling sessions where participants, separated into groups where they had the opportunity to apply what they had learned by developing realistic models that would be useful to them in their fields.

During her presentation, Gaff touched on the need for modelling in contributing to the understanding of ticks and tick-borne diseases in order for those working in the field to be able to work with and around the effects of these tiny disease carriers. She emphasised the need for the use of relevant data in the process of this modelling, and pointed out that people like those in attendance at the workshop could provide that data and help further understanding in those fields. This would in turn assist people such as physicians and veterinarians to mitigate the effects of the diseases ticks carry.

The workshop provided a unique blend of mathematics and biology in its approach to modelling these disease carriers and outbreaks. Gaff also emphasised that these modelling techniques were not solutions for disease spread and outbreaks, but simply tools to prove reality and demonstrate the “why” behind tick population data and disease outbreak.

The workshop continued in its objectives set out for the first workshop in 2013: to apply biological and environmental dynamics to human systems and on testing model complexity and relevance with global sensitivity and uncertainty analysis. The second workshop also aimed to make this work relevant to those working in fields where tick-borne diseases are prevalent.

Participants from state veterinarian services mentioned the usefulness of the workshop in application to their field and appreciated the chance to attend a workshop aimed at channelling knowledge into useful tools for real-world application.

Staff in the SMSCS hope these workshops and collaborations will advance the field of mathematical biology at UKZN.

Christine Cuénod

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