Texas A&M researcher uses interdisciplinary modeling to help shape local health policy

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) – A Texas A&M researcher is using mathematical modeling across several disciplines that has helped shape local health policies throughout the pandemic.

Martial Ndeffo used his experience in modeling past epidemics to influence his work on the COVID-19 pandemic. By combining mathematical and statistical models with behavioral modeling in fields like psychology, he says problems can be approached in a more holistic way.

“Transdisciplinary modeling is a new approach to modeling, especially with regard to infectious diseases,” Ndeffo said. “As the name suggests, what you’re really trying to do is not just a multidisciplinary approach, but an interdisciplinary approach. It certainly comes with a lot of challenges, but it’s worth it. “

Ndeffo’s work at the start of the pandemic focused on reopening the economy. Information from her modeling was used to shape health policy with state, county and Texas A&M officials.

“At what level are you reopening and what kind of social distancing measures are you keeping in place to keep the right balance? What is your objective ? Is your goal to reduce death to a certain level? Is your goal to reduce the number of new cases? said Ndeffo. “Given several parameters for the decision, what’s the right balance, what’s that soft spot, at which you say we can open the economy 25% or we can reopen at 75%.”

He says this transdisciplinary approach is especially useful for navigating new and unfamiliar situations, as it helps people take into account perspectives that they traditionally haven’t considered.

“When we are faced with situations like this which are full of unknowns, it becomes very important to take into consideration what psychology sees here in terms of the behavior of people that a mathematician does not see,” said Ndeffo. “By bringing that together, you’re more likely to solve an issue in a way that it’s more societally relevant, which is important for policy making.”

Ndeffo says modeling is important because when people are faced with an uncertain situation, there is often no better tool than a model.

“A model is a way to experiment and look at different scenarios,” Ndeffo said. “We cannot make scenarios with reality. We don’t have parallel universes. We can’t say we’re not going to put social distancing in this universe, and we’re not going to put masks in this one, and see which one does better and then go back in time. But with a model, we can do it. We can create this parallel universe and try these things, and then go to the decision makers and say, “We think if you put two and two together, this is where we can get to. This is one of the key aspects of the models.

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