This Unity Health team is using math to tackle global health problems

By Marlene Leung, Unity Health Toronto

In an office in downtown Toronto, a dedicated team of Unity Health researchers is using math to tackle some of the world’s most pressing health problems, including COVID-19, Ebola, HIV and human mpox (monkeypox).

The Research Group in Mathematical Modeling and Program Science develops and uses math models to better understand, analyze and predict epidemics. Housed within the MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions and led by principal investigator Dr. Sharmistha Mishra, the lab includes data scientists, mathematical modelers, epidemiologists, biostatisticians, graduate students and research associates. Together, they use math and data to understand the factors driving infectious disease transmission in the hopes of helping to craft more tailored, impactful solutions.

Grounding the lab is a deep commitment to public health, equity and scientific inquiry, says Mishra, who is also a MAP scientist and infectious disease physician at Unity Health. This means taking nothing for granted about viruses, human behavior, and the structural factors that could be fueling disease transmission, she said.

“Our models are really part of the science that serves communities… we approach our modeling with that lens,” she said. “We challenge and interrogate assumptions that go into what we think we understand about epidemics.”

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