New network to model emerging infectious diseases receives $2.5 million in federal funding


York University will lead new approach to disease modelling

TORONTO, April 9, 2021 – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, York University Professor Huaiping Zhu is building a new network of researchers and collaborators who will bring a “One Health” approach to disease modelling, to better predict, prevent and respond to emerging infectious diseases.

The One Health Modelling Network for Emerging Infections/Réseau Une Seule Santé sur le modélisation des Infections (OMNI/RÉUNIS) will use multidisciplinary knowledge about the connections between environmental, animal and human health to refine the disease modelling that is used to identify pathogens early.

The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, and the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, announced an investment of $10 million in funding today, including $2.5 million over two years for the One Health Modelling Network  that Zhu will lead. It is one of five multidisciplinary infectious disease modelling networks being funded through the Emerging Infectious Diseases Modelling Initiative, established through a partnership between the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Prof. Huaiping ZhuAs principal investigator on the OMNI/RÉUNIS project, Zhu, a professor in the Department of Mathematics & Statistics in York’s Faculty of Science, will bring together 72 project co-applicants from 23 Canadian universities and 49 collaborators from 28 national and international organizations. Their expertise ranges from public health, infectious diseases, and epidemiology, to human health, animal health and wildlife, as well as climate-related health outcomes. They will focus on five areas: early detection, early warning systems, early response, and mitigation and control of developing epidemics.

“We are in the midst of an unprecedented emerging infectious disease crisis with the spread of COVID-19, and we need to evolve accordingly,” said Zhu. “The OMNI network will focus on developing models and capacity to inform prevention, surveillance and response. We will ‘follow the bug’ from its place of origin to its introduction and establishment.”

The OMNI network will build on the strong modelling history and multi-disciplinary expertise of the Canadian Centre for Disease Modelling, based at York, and includes many collaborators from the university: Faculty of Science professors Iain Moyles, Jude Kong, Hongmei Zhu, Jane Heffernan, Carly Rozins and Hanna Jankowski; Lassonde School of Engineering professors Marina Freire-Gormaly, Manos Papagelis and Aijun An; and Professor Sean Hillier of the Faculty of Health.

Models developed from the new network are expected to lead to identification of critical data and modelling gaps from a One Health perspective. By identifying the gaps, the network will be able to target surveillance and data and use the data in the disease modelling. For example, the network, which includes Indigenous collaborators, will work with Indigenous communities to address their specific concerns in the modelling and improve early warning capacity.


“These multidisciplinary networks of experts across the country will strengthen Canada’s ability to manage threats from emerging and infectious diseases, protecting all Canadians from current and future pandemics. At the same time, they will help advance Canada’s equity, diversity and inclusion goals through research design and team composition, as well as training the next generation of research leaders.”
– The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry

“The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how important it is for us to have access to breaking public health research and data. Throughout this pandemic, our response has been informed by science and evidence, leveraging Canadian expertise to guide our decision making. Building these networks within the Canadian research community will be instrumental in preparing for future public health challenges.”
– The Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health

“One of the fundamental pillars of science and engineering is to build and improve upon past experiences. This multidisciplinary initiative, coordinated in collaboration with our esteemed colleagues at PHAC, will take advantage of the research excellence found in Canada’s post-secondary institutions to deal more comprehensively with pandemics for the benefit of Canadians for generations to come.”
– Alejandro Adem, President, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada

“We are grateful for the federal government’s investment in the OMNI network, which will support researchers and collaborators from York University and institutions across the country as they work together to better predict, prevent and respond to emerging infectious diseases. The Canadian Centre for Disease Modelling, hosted by York University, is a leader in modelling emerging and infectious diseases, and will provide a strong foundation of expertise to support Professor Zhu and the other members of the OMNI network as they work to protect the health and well-being of our local and global communities.”
– Rhonda Lenton, York University President and Vice-Chancellor

“The creation of this large new network of researchers and collaborators, led by Professor Huaiping Zhu, will combine the power of mathematical modeling with knowledge in many other disciplines including veterinary medicine. This is a unique and wonderful opportunity to improve our understanding of the origins and lifecycle of emerging infectious diseases through interdisciplinary collaboration.”
– Amir Asif, York University Vice-President Research & Innovation

York University is a modern, multi-campus, urban university located in Toronto, Ontario. Backed by a diverse group of students, faculty, staff, alumni and partners, we bring a uniquely global perspective to help solve societal challenges, drive positive change and prepare our students for success. York's fully bilingual Glendon Campus is home to Southern Ontario's Centre of Excellence for French Language and Bilingual Postsecondary Education. York’s campuses in Costa Rica and India offer students exceptional transnational learning opportunities and innovative programs. Together, we can make things right for our communities, our planet, and our future.  

Media contact:
Janice Walls, York University Media Relations, cell 416-455-4710,