On 30 December 2019, the world was notified about a pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan, China (WHO, 2020). Since then, scientists have made remarkable progress in understanding the causative agent, a severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). Declared as a pandemic on the 11th March 2020, the disease is still severely hitting the world (Maiti et al., 2021).

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how scientific cooperation is key when developing preparedness plans in response to a global public health crisis. The rapid spread of the disease has created a sense of emergency in the world, and inspired calls for a coordinated global response to stop the pandemic, mitigate the devastating effects of the pandemic, and thus lay the foundation for long-term management strategy. It is in this context that after a competitive process, the Laboratoire de Biomathématiques et d’Estimations Forestières has funding from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for socio-ecological modeling of COVID-19 dynamics in Africa.  The project was launched in July 2021 for five years.

The Humboldt Research Hub on socio-ecological modelling of COVID-19 dynamics in Africa (HRH-SEMCA) aims to play a crucial role in strategies not only to contain COVID-19, but also to prevent future pandemics. Research findings of the planned HRH-SEMCA are expected to guide African countries in updating or revising their plans periodically to incorporate in policies crucial factors that explain COVID-19 dynamic. Furthermore, this project is expected to broaden research capacities of the Humboldt Research Hub's home institution and put new scientific findings into practice.


The overall objective of HRH-SEMCA is to assist African public health decision makers in their effort to fight efficiently COVID-19 and prevent possible future epidemics/pandemics by providing key information on the dynamic patterns of COVID-19 in the face of different pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical measures. Specifically, the project aims to:

  • assess the socio-ecological patterns of COVID-19 spatial dynamics in Africa (work package 1);
  • model the potential impacts of an imperfect vaccine against COVID-19 in Africa (work package 2);
  • analyse the potential seasonality of COVID-19 in Africa taking into account the main climatic regions (work package 3);
  • assess the dynamics of COVID-19 in the face of non-pharmaceutical interventions implemented, focusing on their impact and relevance of the timing of their implementation (work package 4); and
  • disseminate activities and research outputs from the HRH-SEMCA (work package 5).

Work packages

This project has five work packages (WPs).

WP1 deals with a continental assessment of the spatial patterns of COVID-19 incidence and how this pattern (spatial heterogeneity in COVID-19 incidence) is linked to country-level demographic variables, social interactions variables, testing rate and climatic variables. Among others, this analysis is expected to categorize the countries based on the COVID-19 incidence (e.g., severe incidence, moderate incidence, low incidence)

WP2 focuses on the analysis of how an imperfect vaccine on COVID-19 may effectively stop the spread of the disease. This analysis will consider the different levels of the disease severity (see WP1). This is expected to provide tailored-guidance depending on the severity of the disease incidence.

WP3 aims to analyse the potential seasonality in COVID-19 dynamics in Africa with the expectation to provide timely information that would better equip countries to contain re-emergence of the outbreak. Indeed, it is well known that the spread of respiratory diseases such as COVID-19 are sensitive to some climatic features like temperature and relative humidity, which show a seasonal variation across climatic regions (Tang et al., 2020).

WP4 focuses on the analysis of COVID-19 dynamics in the face of non-pharmaceutical interventions in Africa. Indeed, a number of non-pharmaceutical interventions have been implemented by several countries on the continent in their effort to fight the disease, and an overall perspective of their effectiveness is needed, more particularly, the efficiency of the timing of their implementation. Such information is needed for countries to better prepare for future outbreaks. Finally, in addition to an already fragile health care system, Africa lacks enough qualified human resources in the field of epidemiological modelling and biostatistics. This is why capacity building is central in the HRH-SEMCA.

WP5 focuses on capacity building, dissemination and communication. Two PhDs, 10 Masters in Biostatistics and epidemiological modellings, two young researchers, and one postdoc will be supported by this project.

By completing this intervention, HRH-SEMCA is expected to contribute to Sustainable Development Goals 3 and 17, in particular Target 3.3, Target 3.B, Target 3.D, and Target 17.6. HRH-SEMCA also fits well with the African Union Agenda 2063, in particular its objective 3 which is related to Healthy and well-nourished citizens.