Entrance hall of the ICMSStochastic models of the spread of disease and information on networks

In July 2016, ICMS hosted a workshop on Stochastic models of the spread of disease and information on networks

Despite major advances due to vaccination, hygiene and pharmaceutical interventions, infectious diseases continue to pose a serious threat to public health. Notable examples of epidemics during recent decades include the HIV epidemic, the SARS outbreak in 2002-04, the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, and recently Ebola. It is of utmost importance to understand how infectious diseases spread through populations, how the population structure influences the spread, and what disease control measures are effective.

This workshop brought together people involved in research on the spread of disease and information in populations. The main themes of the meeting were

  • spread of epidemics on dynamic networks;
  • near-critical epidemics;
  • persistence of epidemics;
  • spread of information and opinions;
  • Connecting mathematical models to real-life epidemics through data fitting.

There were over 50 delegates at the workshop. The workshop had people from a range of disciplines, maths, epidemiology, maths biology and computer science. On Tuesday there were a knowledge exchange afternoon with talks from Public Health England, Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and University Medical Centre, Utrecht. The workshop was joined for the afternoon by mathematicians and epidemiologists.  The KE afternoon culminated in a Public Lecture by Deirdre Hollingsworth, Eliminating infectious diseases – are some easier than others?

Deirdre Hollingsworth, Eliminating infectious diseases – are some easier than others?

Post-Talk Calculations

Whilst the workshop was on, we took the opportunity to speak to the delegates in a bit more detail.

Ian Hall, Public Health England



Ian Hall did a PhD in fluid dynamics at the University of Exeter.  He joined Public Health England (PHE), previously known as Health Protection Agency, in 2002.  The Health Protection Agency mainly considered infectious diseases whereas Public Health England has a broader remit and covers chronic diseases, such as diabetes and obesity.  He is a Principal Modeller at PHE, heading up a team of mathematicians and statisticians looking to understand emerging disease transmission and control.  This covers predicting outbreak numbers but also informs outbreak response strategies and preparedness. 

Tell me about today's event and your role in it?

I was a speaker at this workshop and included an overview of my remit at PHE.  This workshop is consider the application of network models and falls within the scope of work we cover.  At PHE we use certain models in particular ways, but it’s interesting to see what others are doing. It is essential to keep aware of the discipline and the latest developments.  We (PHE) have a role to act as an interface between academia and policy makers, so events like these ensure we are aware of the latest research.

What brought you to this area of research?

My PhD was in fluid dynamics, and after that I decided that I was more drawn to maths biology application other than physics.  I found the applications more interesting and the end-results (health improvements, saving lives) are rewarding.

Other than exploring maths, what are the benefits of taking part?

Forming links with academia and making connections that will lead to future collaborations.

What will you take back to your [day job/research/studies]?

The main thing for us is potential new collaborations.  It is more difficult for us to incorporate specific research ideas and start new projects as we have to consider the overlap with PHE priorities.  However, there is a chance to reflect on things and consider future plans.

Have you met interesting people, and if so, what connections have you made?

I knew a lot of the people at the workshop.  It is more about firming up existing connections.  It is good to meet and discuss topics in person rather than be limited to email.

Have you been to many other conferences? How does ICMS differ?

Not so much these days, I used to attend large conferences with parallel sessions but it becomes increasing difficult to justify time out of the office.  This meeting is smaller in number and more focused giving more freedom to explore and discuss areas of interest in detail.


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