Another Tool in the Shed Against COVID-19

A new tool out of NYU Abu Dhabi could help policymakers assess their options in the battle against the pandemic.


Professor of Computer Science Azza Abouzied is building a tool that can guide policymakers with plans that can curb and control an epidemic while taking into consideration societal and economic costs.

The tool provides policymakers an optimal plan of interventions that takes into account the social and economic costs, while minimizing lives lost. Abouzied does this by computationally generating many possible plans and searching for the most cost-effective option.

Governments choose different policies based on their capacities, what other neighbouring countries are doing and their intended outcomes. Even neighbouring countries with similar socio-economic, and geopolitical considerations could approach the crisis with different policies. 

Policymaking requires the coordination among massive governmental departments that each work towards achieving their end of any given task. However, often the overall approach is seldom seen holistically and that could lead to tunnel vision that this tool aims to help remedy. 

“What we do is simplify this process for policymakers. They think about each intervention independently, such as the cost of building and maintaining a testing center. We then combine individual interventions in a systematic way and simulate their effects over the long run. That way policymakers can explore a variety of alternatives and understand why one plan might be more cost-effective compared to others,” she said. 

The applicability of the tool can be configured to each country’s individual demands and capabilities. 

By providing the tool, the right data, and parameters for each administration, the system can guide policymakers to better control the COVID-19 epidemic locally..The tool provides governments with the possible actions that are within their capabilities while taking into account its cost-effectiveness. 

“Much of this information can be readily found or estimated by health and economic authorities. For example, the cost of developing a drive-through testing center and the cost of a single PCR test is information that can be easily found. The economic impact, however, of a stay-at-home intervention, for example, differs widely across locales and needs to be estimated by the local authorities,” she said.

The tool generates a plan with a schedule of when to apply different interventions at specific times while also tallying up the cost of the specific action in relation to its benefit. The tool will also provide alternative plans that can also be implemented.

Abouzied is one of 10 projects that have received NYUAD’s COVID-19 research grants designed to support academic research with the potential to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

The ten selected projects focus on a wide range of disciplines from medical approaches to COVID-19 detection, to policy analysis and its impact on personal and social health.

Partnerships and coordination with local entities and institutions have been a vital component in supporting broader efforts to address the pandemic and resulting challenges.