SIMID | Simulation Models of Infectious Disease

Ebola Round Table – How different disciplines are working together to contain Ebola

In March 2014, an outbreak of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) was detected in Guinea, with a second wave affecting Sierra Leone and Liberia in June. The outbreak has been unprecedented in magnitude and extent, and already exceeds the sum of all previous cases since the discovery of the disease in 1976. Hasselt University and the University of Antwerp host a round table which will bring together a range of experts – biologists, infectious disease modelers, vaccine experts… – on how the worst epidemic of EVD in human history is tackled.

How difficult is it to diagnose the Ebola virus? How can math and statistics help in the fight against Ebola? How do you tackle infectious diseases like Ebola? Why did the Ebola outbreak occurred in West Africa? Are vaccines the ‘silver bullet’? And: is Belgium ready for the first case of Ebola?

During a round table seven experts – representatives from Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Belgium’s Ebola Coordinator Erika Vlieghe, biologists, infectious disease modelers and vaccine experts – will address these questions and will show how different disciplines are working together to contain the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.


Surveillance, chains of transmission and always running two steps behind: field epidemiology in Bo District, Sierra Leone
by Veerle Hermans (MSF)

Fast Ebola virus diagnostics of patient samples in the European Mobile Laboratory
by Benny Borremans (UAntwerpen) and Sophie Gryseels (UAntwerpen)

Monitoring the Ebola epidemic using mathematical epidemiology
by Niel Hens (UHasselt/UAntwerpen) and Christel Faes (UHasselt)

Ebola vaccine development
by Pierre Van Damme, (UAntwerpen)

Ebola preparedness in Belgium
by Erika Vlieghe (National Ebola Coordinator, Federal Public Service of Health)

Panel discussion
Moderator: Jeroen van der Hilst (Jessa Ziekenhuis/UHasselt)

The presentations and panel discussions will be conducted in English.

When and where

  • December 4: UHasselt – Campus Diepenbeek – Building D, auditorium H6
  • December 10: UAntwerpen – Campus Drie Eiken

 About the speakers

Veerle Hermans is a biologist with a background in tropical medicine and primatology. Currently, she is working as a field epidemiologist for Doctors Without Borders (MSF). Previous projects involved field research on the great apes in the central African region, medical writing and a research project on laboratory quality management in the tropics at the Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM). 

Benny Borremans is a biologist and PhD researcher at UAntwerpen, working on the ecology and transmission of viruses in natural rodent populations. 

Sophie Gryseels, PhD student Evolutionary Ecology group (UAntwerpen),  is working on evolutionary and ecological genetics of rodents and their arenaviruses. 

Niel Hens is Professor of Biostatistics at UHasselt and holder of the Chair in Evidence-Based Vaccinology at UAntwerpen. He has expertise in the use of statistical and mathematical models to study the spread of infectious diseases. 

Christel Faes is Professor of Biostatistics at UHasselt. She has expertise in the use of statistical models for modelling correlated (longitudinal, spatial, multivariate, clustered) data. 

Pierre Van Damme is Professor at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (UAntwerpen), Director of the Centre for the Evaluation of Vaccination and Chairman of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Institute, a WHO collaborating centre for the prevention and control of infectious diseases. Professor Van Damme has expertise in infectious disease epidemiology, vaccinology and vaccine trials. 

Dr. Erika Vlieghe is an internal medicine and infectious diseases specialist who studied at and was awarded a PhD by the KU Leuven and the Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM). Since the emergence of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, she was closely involved in the design and implementation of precautionary measures in Belgium, Antwerp University Hospital and at ITM. In October 2014, she took up the position of national Ebola coördinator, assigned by the federal Minister of Health.

 About the Ebola epidemic

In March 2014, an outbreak of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) was detected in Guinea, on the border with Sierra Leone and Liberia. The outbreak was later found to have started from a zoonotic introduction in December 2013. A first wave of the epidemic, in March and April 2014, affected mainly Guinea with few cases in Sierra Leone and Liberia. However, despite the initial efforts to control it, there has been a second wave of infections since June 2014, affecting mainly Liberia and Sierra Leone, and leading to chains of transmission in two states of Nigeria and several exported cases. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the event a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 8 August and the UN General Assembly has declared the epidemic a threat to global health and security – lifting it from a local health emergency to a multi-sectorial catastrophe in a region that, until 10-15 years ago, was ravaged by war. It also highlights the need for extraordinary civil and military logistical assets to control the outbreak. 

For the affected region and the rest of the world, it is essential to understand and predict the evolution of the outbreak, in order to assess the risks of further spread, and to support the most efficient allocation of resources locally and globally.

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