A new U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report analyzes how federal agencies use infectious disease modeling to help guide decisions to fight outbreaks and how these models can be improved. The report was requested by Energy and Commerce Committee leaders in 2017 after learning about challenges with infectious disease modeling during the Zika outbreak at a hearing.
The report's requestors, Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO), and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Brett Guthrie (R-KY), released the following statement on GAO's findings:
"As we have learned though previous outbreaks and the COVID-19 pandemic we are now facing, it is important to know how to stop the spread of a disease and how to best utilize public health resources. We know the better the infectious disease modeling, the better we can target our response to public health threats. We learned about the shortcomings with modeling in a hearing on the Zika outbreak and requested a bipartisan report to better understand the challenges of infectious disease modeling and how it can be improved. According to GAO, coordination efforts can be improved among federal agencies to make modeling stronger. We hope that HHS will apply these findings to help with response efforts now and for future public health emergencies. As we are learning lessons from this outbreak, we will continue working together in a bipartisan way to help overcome this pandemic," said Pallone, Walden, DeGette, and Guthrie.
In a May 23, 2017 Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing, Dr. Timothy M. Persons, GAO Chief Scientist, informed the Subcommittee that Zika modeling was inhibited by insufficient data.
On November 9, 2017, the Committee sent a letter to GAO to request a review of infectious disease models and how these models are used by federal agencies to make decisions.
In the report titled, "Infectious Disease Modeling: Opportunities to Improve Coordination and Ensure Reproducibility," GAO recommends that the Department of Health and Human Services, needs to improve the effectiveness, better coordinate efforts, and instruct CDC to establish guidelines on modeling.