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The assembly effect: the connectedness between populations is a double-edged sword for public health interventions.

Abstract

The impact of a public health intervention (mass drug administration for malaria) was modelled, for different levels of connectedness between populations that have similar disease epidemiology (e.g., two nearby villages which have similar baseline malaria incidences and similar malaria intervention measures), or between populations of varying disease epidemiology (e.g., two nearby villages which have different baseline malaria incidences and/or malaria intervention measures).

The connectedness of intervention units or populations is an important factor to be considered to achieve success in public health interventions that could provide herd effects. Appreciating the assembly effect can improve the cost-effective strategies for global disease elimination projects.

Many public health interventions lead to disruption or decrease of transmission, providing a beneficial effect for people in the population regardless of whether or not they individually participate in the intervention. This protective benefit has been referred to as a herd or community effect and is dependent on sufficient population participation. In practice, public health interventions are implemented at different spatial scales (i.e., at the village, district, or provincial level). Populations, however defined (i.e., neighbourhoods, villages, districts) are frequently connected to other populations through human movement or travel, and this connectedness can influence potential herd effects.

The overall impact of the interventions deployed could be influenced either positively (adding value to the intervention) or negatively (reducing the impact of the intervention) by how much the intervention units are connected with each other (e.g., how frequent people go to the other village or town) and how different the disease intensity between them are. This phenomenon is termed the "assembly effect", and it is a meta-population version of the more commonly understood "herd effect".

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