Malaria is a complex disease that has devastated Africa and parts of South Africa. Researchers at the University of Pretoria Institute for Sustainable Malaria Control are combining research disciplines to understand and control malaria.
Malaria in South Africa
Malaria is an often lethal disease, caused by the Plasmodium parasite and transmitted by female Anopheles mosquitoes. It is endemic to large parts of Africa, including a few regions in the northeastern corner of South Africa.
In particular, the Vhembe region in Limpopo remains a malaria hotspot despite an indoor residual spraying (IRS) programme, where houses and buildings are sprayed annually with an insecticide to limit transmission of the disease.
IRS is not an ideal solution, however. The insecticide used in traditional mud huts is dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), which may cause environmental problems and damage human health. In addition, malaria remains a constant problem in the area due to ineffective control in neighbouring Zimbabwe.
In order to meet South Africa’s plan to eliminate malaria from the country by 2018, innovative approaches to control are needed.
The University of Pretoria Institute for Sustainable Malaria Control (UP ISMC) is taking a transdisciplinary approach to malaria control, with a special focus on communities in the Vhembe area. Researchers work with the communities to understand their needs and to pilot new technologies and solutions to the challenges of malaria control in South Africa.
Among a wide range of projects at the Institute, three stand out as examples of the transdisciplinary, innovative and inclusive research pioneered by the UP ISMC.
|Insecticidal wall linings|
The Institute has developed wall linings impregnated with insecticide, and tested them in Vhembe. The communities there approve of the intervention, and after four years (based on tests in the laboratory) they remain an effective way to control mosquito populations and limit transmission of malaria.
|Apps for malaria control|
Another project is using a cellphone app known as mSpray to better track and record the details of the IRS programme in the Vhembe area. This will help limit the toxic effects of DDT on human populations and reduce the time and effort spent monitoring IRS programmes. The mSpray app could potentially be rolled out countrywide or even internationally. Malaria Buddy is another app developed at the UP ISMC, which provides malaria risk and symptom information for travellers in malaria regions.
|Understanding the effects of DDT|
Another very important project in the area is looking at the effects of DDT and other common insecticides on fertility, birth defects and childhood brain development. Researchers are studying mother-child pairs to understand how the mother’s exposure to insecticides impacts on the child. It is well-known that these insecticides potentially can cause health problems, and so understanding the impact more clearly will help to limit the health impact of IRS.
|Using satellite surveillance to control malaria|
Malaria-spreading mosquitoes have a particular set of environmental factors that need to be just right for them to thrive. Mr Abiodun Morakinyo Adeola, a doctoral student at the UP ISMC, has combined this knowledge with satellite data to predict malaria outbreaks and to find the areas and populations most at risk.
Prof Tiaan de Jager
Director: UP Institute for Sustainable Malaria Control (UP ISMC)
Focus area - Public health, Environmental health, Malaria, Toxicology, Reproductive health
Prof Riana Bornman
Extra-Ordinary Professor in Andrology, Department of Urology at the Faculty of Health Sciences.
Focus area - Since 2002, her public health focus has been on health effects in malarial areas where insecticides like DDT are applied for mosquito vector control with inadvertent exposure of humans and the environment. She has done extensive research in communities of the Vhembe district of Limpopo, using local VhaVenda women for training, recruitment and data collection.
Prof Rhena Delport
Head of the Skill Laboratory, Faculty of Health Sciences
Focus area - environmental exposure, cardiovascular disease, medical education and medical professionalism.
Dr Natalie H. Aneck-Hahn
Director: Environmental Chemical Pollution and Health (ECPH) Research Unit at UP
Focus area - health and medical sciences, with a specialisation in male reproduction, endocrine disrupting chemicals and health-related water quality
Prof Walter Focke
Director: Institute of Applied Materilas (IAM)
Focus area - Polymer technology use for the controlled release of actives, for physical methods of vector control.
Dr Taneshka Kruger
Senior project coordinator: UP ISMC, operational and administrative support within the UP ISMC
Focus area - Malaria education and health promotion, alternative vector control methods.
Prof Clifford Mutero
Coordinator of Malaria IVM Programme activities at ICIPE
Focus area - Malaria vector ecology and behaviour; Integrated vector management, and multi-sectoral malaria control policy-making
Dr Mthokozisi Sibanda
Postdoc student in the Department of Chemical Engineering
Focus area - development of polyolefin fabrics as slow release devices for insecticides/repellents
Ms Mildred Ramothole
MPH student in the SHSPH.
Focus area – Long-term acceptability of wall linings in the Vhembe area.
Prof Piet J. Becker
Focus area - Prof Becker is a biostatistician in the Faculty of Health Sciences. He assists with statistics on numerous research projects (staff and postgraduate student research).