Intelligent judgements over health risks in a spatial agent-based model

Int J Health Geogr. 2018 Mar 20;17(1):8. doi: 10.1186/s12942-018-0128-x.


Background: Millions of people worldwide are exposed to deadly infectious diseases on a regular basis. Breaking news of the Zika outbreak for instance, made it to the main media titles internationally. Perceiving disease risks motivate people to adapt their behavior toward a safer and more protective lifestyle. Computational science is instrumental in exploring patterns of disease spread emerging from many individual decisions and interactions among agents and their environment by means of agent-based models. Yet, current disease models rarely consider simulating dynamics in risk perception and its impact on the adaptive protective behavior. Social sciences offer insights into individual risk perception and corresponding protective actions, while machine learning provides algorithms and methods to capture these learning processes. This article presents an innovative approach to extend agent-based disease models by capturing behavioral aspects of decision-making in a risky context using machine learning techniques. We illustrate it with a case of cholera in Kumasi, Ghana, accounting for spatial and social risk factors that affect intelligent behavior and corresponding disease incidents. The results of computational experiments comparing intelligent with zero-intelligent representations of agents in a spatial disease agent-based model are discussed.

Methods: We present a spatial disease agent-based model (ABM) with agents' behavior grounded in Protection Motivation Theory. Spatial and temporal patterns of disease diffusion among zero-intelligent agents are compared to those produced by a population of intelligent agents. Two Bayesian Networks (BNs) designed and coded using R and are further integrated with the NetLogo-based Cholera ABM. The first is a one-tier BN1 (only risk perception), the second is a two-tier BN2 (risk and coping behavior).

Results: We run three experiments (zero-intelligent agents, BN1 intelligence and BN2 intelligence) and report the results per experiment in terms of several macro metrics of interest: an epidemic curve, a risk perception curve, and a distribution of different types of coping strategies over time.

Conclusions: Our results emphasize the importance of integrating behavioral aspects of decision making under risk into spatial disease ABMs using machine learning algorithms. This is especially relevant when studying cumulative impacts of behavioral changes and possible intervention strategies.

Keywords: Bayesian networks; Cholera; Disease diffusion; Emergent behavior; Learning; Protection motivation theory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Artificial Intelligence / statistics & numerical data
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Cholera / diagnosis
  • Cholera / epidemiology*
  • Cholera / prevention & control
  • Communicable Diseases / diagnosis
  • Communicable Diseases / epidemiology
  • Ghana / epidemiology
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Machine Learning* / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Factors
  • Spatial Analysis*
  • Waste Disposal Facilities / statistics & numerical data