Israeli researcher wins grant for first ever COVID-19 cost-effective model

‘We might say we are willing to do anything to stop the pandemic”, Dr. Ronen Arbel told 'The Jerusalem Post,' “but in reality, the public does not act like that.”

Ronen Arbel, Phd, Chair of the Technology Marketing Department Sapir Academic College (photo credit: SAPIR ACADEMIC COLLEGE PR ADVA ODAYA OGEN)
Ronen Arbel, Phd, Chair of the Technology Marketing Department Sapir Academic College
Dr. Ronen Arbel has won a national grant to create a “first ever” model of how cost effective are the various means used to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. He will begin working on building it next week with the goal of finishing in a year.
“There is no such model at the moment,” the Sapir College chairman of Technology Marketing told The Jerusalem Post, “which is why the Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research gave us the grant.” 
Ranging between NIS 50,000 to 100,000 per grant, the institute approved 27 grants (including Arbel's) out of 200 submissions, the institute spokesperson told the Post.
Other recipients include Dr. Yael Bar-Zeev from Hebrew University, who will conduct a study on how local councils responded to the pandemic, and Prof. Yuval Bloch of Shalvata Hospital, who will research the relation between COVID-19 and mental health.
Arbel's grant will fund the creation of a new data bank that will gather publicly available information about how Israel and other countries have been attempting to curb the spread of COVID-19, as well as offer a prediction model to test future steps. Arbel will be working on the project with Prof. Emeritus Joseph Pliskin from Ben-Gurion University. 
“At the moment, Israel is making decisions without knowing how cost-effective they are,” Arbel said. “And not just Israel, but all countries in the world.”
Arbel went on to explain that public health policies usually take into account the quality-adjusted life year (QALY) factor. Used by the US Congress, among others, QALY attempts to measure one year of human life in perfect health (value of 1.0) verses other options such as one year of life in poor health (value of 0.5), death (0) and living in such poor health a person might describe his life as being worse than death (negative value). A calculation technique, it's used to assess how effective various health policies are. In other words, how much QALY you get for your money.
“Let’s say I decided on a policy of total nation-wide lockdown to save human lives,” Arbel told the Post. “No doubt it’s very effective, but the cost to the economy is horrific. If I saved 10 QALY units,” meaning 10 years of life for ten people, “isn’t NIS 100,000 per unit a high cost?”
“There is no doubt that you could prevent nearly all traffic accidents, for example, by banning driving,” he added. “But the cost to the economy would be horrific.” 
Arbel went on to name the various means employed by Israel and other countries to control COVID-19: full lockdown, partial lockdown limited to specific cities or regions, halting flights, closing borders, using monitoring tools to break infection chains and using police forces to ensure members of the public are wearing masks. 
“We might say we are willing to do everything to curb COVID-19", he said, “but in reality, the public does not act like it.”
Of this there are many examples, from individuals who refuse to wear masks despite the risk of being fined by police to restaurant owners who refuse to comply with the Health Ministry regulations after the ministry issued conflicting demands in the space of a few days.
Israel’s “Corona-Czar,” Prof. Ronni Gamzu, often talks about the need to "gain the trust of the Israeli public."
“I think that it would be very meaningful to the public to know decisions are taken based on data gathered in scientific tools”, Arbel told the Post.
When asked about the possibility of a COVID-19 vaccine being released in a year’s time, Arbel says that he isn’t so optimistic. 
“The model will be able to answer questions of cost-effectiveness about the vaccine as well,” he said. 
“Even if the COVID-19 pandemic would vanish today,” Arbel said, “please remember – this is a new form of the virus; a future virus is going to come along at some point, and our model will help deal with it.”