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Challenges in modeling complexity of neglected tropical diseases: a review of dynamics of visceral leishmaniasis in resource limited settings

Swati DebRoy, Olivia Prosper, Austin Mishoe, Anuj Mubayi
Emerging Themes in Epidemiology 2017, 14: 10
28936226

OBJECTIVES: Neglected tropical diseases (NTD), account for a large proportion of the global disease burden, and their control faces several challenges including diminishing human and financial resources for those distressed from such diseases. Visceral leishmaniasis (VL), the second-largest parasitic killer (after malaria) and an NTD affects poor populations and causes considerable cost to the affected individuals. Mathematical models can serve as a critical and cost-effective tool for understanding VL dynamics, however, complex array of socio-economic factors affecting its dynamics need to be identified and appropriately incorporated within a dynamical modeling framework. This study reviews literature on vector-borne diseases and collects challenges and successes related to the modeling of transmission dynamics of VL. Possible ways of creating a comprehensive mathematical model is also discussed.

METHODS: Published literature in three categories are reviewed: (i) identifying non-traditional but critical mechanisms for VL transmission in resource limited regions, (ii) mathematical models used for dynamics of Leishmaniasis and other related vector borne infectious diseases and (iii) examples of modeling that have the potential to capture identified mechanisms of VL to study its dynamics.

RESULTS: This review suggests that VL elimination have not been achieved yet because existing transmission dynamics models for VL fails to capture relevant local socio-economic risk factors. This study identifies critical risk factors of VL and distribute them in six categories (atmosphere, access, availability, awareness, adherence, and accedence). The study also suggests novel quantitative models, parts of it are borrowed from other non-neglected diseases, for incorporating these factors and using them to understand VL dynamics and evaluating control programs for achieving VL elimination in a resource-limited environment.

CONCLUSIONS: Controlling VL is expensive for local communities in endemic countries where individuals remain in the vicious cycle of disease and poverty. Smarter public investment in control programs would not only decrease the VL disease burden but will also help to alleviate poverty. However, dynamical models are necessary to evaluate intervention strategies to formulate a cost-effective optimal policy for eradication of VL.

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