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UNHCR/Coxs Bazar

A new model developed by our data scientists to simulate the spread of COVID-19 has helped curb the spread of the virus in the world’s largest refugee settlement.

Leading academics and data scientists from our Physics Department, in collaboration with groups at the UN: UN Global Pulse, WHO, UNHCR, and OCHA; as well as academics from Public Health England, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab have implemented an agent-based model to simulate the spread of COVID-19 in the Cox’s Bazar settlement, in Bangladesh.

The model is based on the JUNE open-source modelling framework and it has significantly helped the decision makers to curb the spread of the virus in the huge settlement.  

Three-step process

The modelling followed a three-step process. First, the researchers built a ‘digital twin’ of the Cox’s Bazar refugee settlement.  

Virtual individuals were included into the model with different demographic attributes that mirrored real world statistics.

The researchers then designed a simulation engine that captured and simulated the possible movement and interaction patterns among the 900,000 Rohingya residents in the model.

Lastly, our experts implemented different operational interventions to simulate its effects on the spread of COVID-19 in the settlement.

Solving real-world problems

Through the simulation results, our leading researchers found that mask wearing is highly effective to slow the spread of coronavirus in the refugee settlement.

Consequently, a mask-wearing strategy was rolled out, which included mask-making, and communication and engagement campaigns to increase and encourage the correct usage of masks.

UNHCR/Coxs BazarThe study results also indicated that reopening of learning centres could lead to a higher infection rate in the refugee settlement, where social distancing is nearly impossible, and the researchers explored possible strategies to ensure their safe reopening.

Moreover, the researchers established that the rate of coronavirus transmission was almost the same whether positive cases were handled in treatment centres or sent to home isolation.

This is because the refugee settlement in Cox’s Bazar has a very high population density and many facilities are shared among the residents, where the virus is likely to spread rapidly before positive cases are identified.

The research has provided crucial insights to World Health Organisation and UNHCR public health professionals operating in the refugee settlement to control the spread of COVID-19.  

Our impact-making research is aimed at solving real-world problems and aligns with the reputation of our Physics Department being ranked 4th in the UK (The Guardian University Guide 2022) and among one of the best globally.

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[Picture credit: UNHCR/Amos Halder]

[Video credit: UNGP] 


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