Why do we model malaria?

Mathematical modeling is a powerful tool in the study of infectious disease, and unique in its ability to synthesize the results of many related research streams. By incorporating the findings of a wide range of scientific studies into a formal mathematical framework, we are able to simulate malaria transmission as we currently understand it, and under a range of hypothetical circumstances.

Malaria is a complex disease, and whether or not an intervention will be effective in controlling it depends on the interplay of a wide array of geographical, environmental, biological, and socioeconomic factors. Amidst this complexity, malaria control programs and funders need to make urgent decisions: which intervention strategies make sense in a particular context, and how should they be deployed in order to achieve a program’s goals? Modeling helps to answer these questions, allowing us to simulate various intervention scenarios and predict their impact, identify optimal intervention packages for specific geographies, or establish which qualities a future intervention would need to have in order to be effective.

In addition to its programmatic uses, the modeling process can help identify knowledge gaps and pose questions for other researchers to investigate. Uncertainty is an important consideration in modeling, and model development is an ongoing task. Research groups are continuously working to improve their models to reflect real-world situations and incorporate cutting-edge empirical research, as well as find ways to effectively communicate uncertainty and its implications to decision-makers. When model results differ from real-world outcomes, the formal structure of models allows us to understand where mistakes were made, to ask new and important research questions, and to make adjustments accordingly.

While models will never be perfect, the MMC believes that mathematical modeling is the best way to synthesize the wide range of scientific studies related to malaria into a coherent understanding of malaria transmission, and that it plays a vital role in enabling countries to make the best decisions they can, given current knowledge.