'Take human behavior in account in response to corona epidemic'

Kees Boersma is part of EU H2020 HERoS-project to develop new methods in handling the corona crisis.

03/19/2020 | 1:10 PM

How can we create a more effective preparation and response to the corona epidemic? Social scientist Kees Boersma is one of the researchers in the newly acquired EU H2020 Health Emergency Response in interconnected Systems (HERoS) project, which advocates a more integral approach where human behavior is taking into account in response to a crisis like this. “We want to find new methods where governance, information and logistics are integrated in handling the corona epidemic.”

The Corona-virus, COVID-19, is continuing to spread. By the beginning of March, the number of infected people surpasses 87,000, and the death toll continues to rise. Authorities and responders are struggling to contain the spread. In Europe and all over the world, schools and universities are closed. News about mass quarantine camps or shortages of personal protective equipment threaten the health systems globally, fueled by rumors and misinformation. The disruptions of (medical) supply chains, the lack of capacity to treat patients and the spread of rumors through social media fuel an atmosphere of uncertainty and mistrust, hampering an effective response. Traditional models of disease outbreaks largely focus on infection rates, struggling to take into account the tremendous uncertainties associated to human behavior in the response to an epidemic. Therefore, new methods are needed that take an integral and inclusive perspective and consider the interplay of coordination, information, and supply chains – and associated uncertainty.

Kees Boersma calls for new governance methods and creative ways of working for a more effective response to viruses like corona disease. “The disruptions of (medical) supply chains, the lack of capacity to treat patients and the spread of rumors fuel an atmosphere of uncertainty, hampering an effective response. While traditional models of disease outbreaks largely focus on infection rates, new methods are needed to recognize resilient behavior from the bottom up. For example, the macro-level models on contact tracing, quarantine and monitoring activities for COVID-19 cases proposed by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) must be combined with local initiatives from citizen groups and volunteers offering support to vulnerable people in isolation. Such a differentiated public health response based on the understanding of local behavioral patterns of populations, health care professionals, and supporting organizations will eventually lead to inclusive coordination of the response to the world-wide crisis.”

HERoS aims to create and provide policies and guidelines for improved crisis governance, focusing on responders to public health emergencies, and their needs to make informed decisions. The project further improves the predictions of the spread by understanding and modelling the impact of local behavior on the spread of the disease. Furthermore, it wants to improve the management of medical supply chains for preparedness and response, as well as evaluates the impact of cascading effects across global supply chains. The project has two phases: in response to the on-going outbreak, rapid analyses will provide actionable advice for health care professionals, crisis managers, and logisticians responding to the COVID-19 epidemic. In a second phase, the project will focus on tying together the learnings from this outbreak and develop a suite of open-source tools and methods to prevent, help contain and mitigate the effects of (future) epidemics and pandemics outbreaks.

HERoS project
In the newly acquired EU H2020 project HERoS, researchers of the faculty of Techonology Policy and Management, as part of a larger consortium, will integrate behavioral and informational dynamics in epidemiological and supply-chain models. Governance, information, and logistics will be brought together to prepare for and respond to the Corona epidemic. Social sciences researcher Kees Boersma, coordinator of the Crisis Resilience Academy of the Institute for Societal Resilience at the VU, will be one of HERoS’ Work Package leaders, focusing on multi-layered disaster governance. His colleague Ioannis Kyratsis is co-applicant.

The project will be coordinated by Hanken School of Economics (the Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Research Institute), Finland, and includes 11 partners: the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the University of Technology Delft, the Netherlands; the Open University, United Kingdom; NHG Consulting, Finland; Arttic Consulting, France; CBK, Space Research Centre of Polish Academy of Sciences, Squadron SP.Z.O.O. and Polish Center for International Aid, Poland; Red Cross, Italy; Project HOPE People to People Health Foundation, North Macedonia.