Modelling the impact of rapid tests, tracing and distancing in lower-income countries suggest that optimal policies vary with rural-urban settings
Jiang X., Gong W., Dobreva Z., Gao Y., Quaife M., Fraser C., Holmes C.
AbstractLow- and middle-income countries (LMICs) remain of high potential for hotspots for COVID-19 deaths and emerging variants given the inequality of vaccine distribution and their vulnerable healthcare systems. We aim to evaluate containment strategies that are sustainable and effective for LMICs. We constructed synthetic populations with varying contact and household structures to capture LMIC demographic characteristics that vary across communities. Using an agent- based model, we explored the optimal containment strategies for rural and urban communities by designing and simulating setting-specific strategies that deploy rapid diagnostic tests, symptom screening, contact tracing and physical distancing. In low-density rural communities, we found implementing either high quality (sensitivity > 50%) antigen rapid diagnostic tests or moderate physical distancing could contain the transmission. In urban communities, we demonstrated that both physical distancing and case finding are essential for containing COVID-19 (average infection rate < 10%). In high density communities that resemble slums and squatter settlements, physical distancing is less effective compared to rural and urban communities. Lastly, we demonstrated contact tracing is essential for effective containment. Our findings suggested that rapid diagnostic tests could be prioritised for control and monitor COVID-19 transmission and highlighted that contact survey data could guide strategy design to save resources for LMICs. An accompanying open source R package is available for simulating COVID-19 transmission based on contact network models.