A first for South Africa

Posted on April 16, 2018

Ms Takalani Makhanṱhisa, who will soon be commencing her MSc studies in Medical Entomology at the University of Pretoria (UP), was recently awarded the Dr Sylvia Meek Scholarship for Entomology.

She is the first South African recipient of this scholarship, which was set up by the Malaria Consortium in London in memory of Dr Sylvia Meek, the Consortium’s Global Technical Director, who passed away in 2016. Her untimely passing left a big void in the fight against infectious diseases, and of malaria in particular.

The Malaria Consortium was established in 2003 and is a leading non-profit organisation specialising in the prevention, control and treatment of malaria and other communicable diseases. Through the scholarship, the Malaria Consortium is committed to ensuring that Dr Meek’s work is carried on by future generations of African entomologists. Globally, approximately 216 million cases of malaria and approximately 445 000 malaria-related deaths were reported in 2016.

Ms Makhanṱhisa joined UP in 2013, when she enrolled for a BSc in Genetics. After having completed this degree at the end of 2015, she enrolled for an honours degree in Biochemistry as part of the Malaria Parasite Molecular Laboratory (M2PL) group in the Department of Biochemistry at UP. The M2PL group is part of the Parasite Control research cluster of the University of Pretoria Institute for Sustainable Malaria Control (UP ISMC).

The UP ISMC coordinates and promotes research on safer and sustainable malaria control within various UP departments across all faculties. Ms Makhanṱhisa’s honours research project was titled 'Evaluation of the prevalence of Cytochrome P540 2D6 mutations in the population of Vhembe District, Limpopo Province'. The cytochrome enzyme is involved in the metabolism of many drugs, including the malaria transmission blocking drug primaquine. Since mutations in this enzyme affect its metabolising capacity, they must be evaluated prior to their implementation. A paper that Ms Makhanthisa co-authored with Shehu Awandu, a PhD student, was published in the Malaria Journal.

While she was a National Research Foundation intern in the UP ISMC from April 2017 to March 2018, she indicated that she was interested in doing an MSc degree focusing on the malaria mosquito vector, and was encouraged to apply for the Dr Sylvia Meek Scholarship. Ms Makhanṱhisa’s scholarship will commence once she has registered as a full-time MSc student in the Department of Zoology and Entomology.

Ms Makhanṱhisa’s MSc project is titled 'Effectiveness of selected cattle-administered endectocides to reduce disease-vector mosquitoes'. She will be supervised by Dr Heike Lutermann from the Department of Zoology and Entomology, and Prof Leo Braack from the School of Health Systems and Public Health at UP. Her research will focus on determining the optimal dosage at which two endectocide drugs, Ivermectin and Eprinomectin, effectively reduces the malaria vector Anopheles mosquitoes.

She plans to conduct her study in the malaria-endemic areas of the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces, and also in Mozambique.

Explaining her interest in contributing to the fight against malaria, Ms Makhanṱhisa, who was born and raised in the Vhembe District in the Limpopo Province where the highest number of malaria cases in South Africa are reported, said: 'It pains me to see the number of people that are still affected by malaria, more especially those dying from it in Limpopo, South Africa and Africa as a whole.’

- Author Department of University Relations

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