Friday, December 23, 2005

Kompas' Folly is Our Loss

Apologies for the long absence (or more appropriate, "Appy-polly-logies", since during the hiatus I watched one of Kubrick's classics* - again). But I digress.

I was not going to post anything until next week, but I came across this post by Roby Muhamad on the nexus of flu epidemic and population mobility in his blog.

Two very interesting issues to discuss here. First, the refusal by Kompas to publish his article, and in particular the reason given by Kompas - "tidak mengarah ke pemaknaan masalah atau membuka pencerahan baru".

The second thing to discuss is of course the article itself which I think merits much attention, to put it understatedly. The article is a more accessible version of an article that Roby and several co-authors published in the PNAS. In the latter, the authors' develop a model of an epidemic that takes account not only of the interactions within sub-populations (say, workplaces, villages, cities) but also the interactions between these sub-populations that can depend , among other things, on actual transportation networks.

The mobility of individuals to travel between population scales, from workplace to villages to countries and so on is essential during an outbreak. This is exactly why, in the Kompas-rejected article, Roby emphasizes the danger on focusing solely on hoarding vaccines while not paying enough attention to developing strategies to restrict the mobility of infected individuals. Their model also offers some explanation why the SARS epidemic that was estimated to have the similar basic reproduction ratio (R0) to that of the great flu epidemic in the 1918, resulted in very different final epidemic size. Thanks to those travel advisories, they argued. It's a cool paper even for those who are not too familiar with the literature (including yours truly).

The theme of the study is probably not entirely unfamiliar to economists who are studying the economic aspects of transmittable diseases such as HIV, malaria, a lot of whom have been focusing on the role of economic and behavioral factors, extended household networks, marriage market, in addition to the biological transmission rate. For most of us, however, this is quite an eye opener, especially since stories like this , this, or this , are abound. Which is why, Kompas' decision not to publish the article is lamentable.

More later..

*) It just so happens that Anthony Burgess, whose book "Clockwork Orange" was the source of the movie, lost his mother and sister when he was one year old, due to the great flu epidemic of 1918.

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