Partnership dynamics in mathematical models and implications for representation of sexually transmitted infections: a review.


Mathematical models of sexually transmitted disease (STI) are increasingly relied on to inform policy, practice, and resource allocation. Because STI transmission requires sexual contact between two or more people, a model's ability to represent the dynamics of sexual partnerships can influence the validity of findings. This ability is to a large extent constrained by the model type, as different modeling frameworks vary in their capability to capture patterns of sexual contact at individual, partnership, and network levels. In this paper, we classify models into three groups: compartmental, individual-based, and statistical network models. For each framework, we describe the basic model structure and discuss key aspects of sexual partnership dynamics: how and with whom partnerships are formed, partnership duration and dissolution, and temporal overlap in partnerships (concurrency). We illustrate the potential implications of accurately accounting for partnership dynamics, but these effects depend on characteristics of both the population and pathogen; the combined impact of these partnership and epidemiologic dynamics can be difficult to predict. While each of the reviewed model frameworks may be appropriate to inform certain research or policy questions, modelers and consumers of models should carefully consider the implications of sexual partnership dynamics for the questions under study.

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Darcy Rao

Acting Assistant Professor
University of Washington