School of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science

Mathematical Modelling Sheds Light on the Spread of Ebola Virus Disease

Research into the mathematical modelling of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) earned Dr Suliman Abdalla a PhD in Applied Mathematics.

Supervised by Professor Kesh Govinder and Professor Farai Chirove, Abdalla’s research involved an in-depth study of EVD, which affects large parts of Africa.

‘Suliman is a remarkable, tenacious, driven young man who overcame long-COVID-19, poor healthcare and a civil war to achieve his dream of a PhD,’ said Govinder.

Abdalla initially completed a systematic review of the literature focused on Ebola outbreaks in West Africa, analysing 90 articles on the subject.

He then developed novel mathematical models to simulate the impact of geographically targeted vaccinations as well as the interplay between the attacks on Ebola treatment centres and the spread of the disease.

‘The mathematical models I developed to understand the dynamics of the Ebola Virus Disease spread focused mainly on the 2018-2020 EVD outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,’ said Abdalla. ‘By simulating different scenarios, such as targeted vaccinations and the impact of attacks on treatment centres, I aimed to provide insights that could help optimise response strategies, reduce transmission and ultimately save lives. This work is crucial as it aids public health leaders in making informed decisions during crises.’

The devastating impact of the Ebola outbreaks in Africa sparked Abdalla’s interest in using mathematical modelling to prevent such health crises. ‘I was mainly motivated by the potential to contribute to better preparedness and response strategies through rigorous scientific methods, helping mitigate the effects of such deadly outbreaks on vulnerable populations,’ he explained.

The research is significant owing to its potential to influence public health policy and emergency response strategies effectively. ‘By identifying optimal strategies for intervention, such as geographically targeted vaccinations and understanding the consequences of disruptions at treatment centres, my research supports the deployment of resources in a manner that could be most effective in controlling the spread of the disease,’ he said.

Abdalla, who chose to pursue his PhD at UKZN because of its strong reputation in mathematical sciences, thanked his supervisors for their invaluable guidance and support throughout his PhD journey, as well as his wife Fatima and children Mohamed and Rida.

He emphasised the importance of funding and supporting scientific research as it laid the groundwork for innovative solutions to global health problems.

‘Encouraging young scientists in fields like epidemiology and public health is crucial for our preparedness and response to future health crises,’ said Abdalla, who plans to continue his work in epidemiological modelling, potentially expanding into other infectious diseases that threaten global health.

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Supplied