SADC Malaria Week: UP ISMC to host webinar on safer malaria-free strategies

Posted on November 03, 2020

If malaria elimination is ever to be achieved in South Africa and globally without impacting on future generations, then research into safer, more innovative tools and alternative sustainable control tools, methods and strategies needs to be encouraged.  

This is the central idea of a webinar that will be held on Southern African Development Community (SADC) Malaria Day on Friday 6 November and hosted by the Student Forum of the University of Pretoria’s Institute for Sustainable Malaria Control (UP ISMC). The institute is commemorating SADC Malaria Week (2 to 6 November) to raise awareness about the disease and to support communities to play their part in the drive towards malaria elimination.

“In line with the vision of the UP ISMC, an integrated vector management approach coupled with current and novel parasite control measures, community education and health promotion strategies as well as the contributions of the affected communities are needed to ensure eventual malaria elimination,” says Professor Tiaan de Jager, Director of the UP ISMC, who will be moderating the webinar.

The disease is an ongoing public health dilemma. “Malaria control faces many challenges both at the parasite and vector control levels,” says Prof De Jager. “Insecticides have been the mainstay of malaria vector control and elimination endeavours for decades. But challenges such as insecticide resistance is already a major concern in preventing malaria transmission. Despite their importance in preventing people dying from malaria in the present, insecticides could leave disease-burdened communities with epigenetic concerns.”

Titled ‘Integrated Vector Management and New Innovations to Limit Epigenetic Changes in Malaria-Endemic Communities’, the webinar will explore how research makes a difference in the futures of malaria-endemic communities, and the challenges of controlling and eliminating the disease in a safe and sustainable way without impacting on the health of vulnerable communities and the environment.

Three researchers affiliated to or collaborating with the institute on malaria-related research will feature in the discussion and will address the necessary evil of insecticides while looking at long-term alternative means to safely contribute towards the elimination of malaria.

Professor Leo Braack will talk about malaria vector and associated control challenges. For seven years he headed the UP ISMC’s Vector Control cluster with a research interest in mosquito vector biology and biting behaviour, and worked closely with the Chemical Engineering team at the Institute of Applied Materials at UP to develop innovative vector control materials.

Professor Sarah Kimmins of McGill University in Canada will focus on how exposure to malaria control insecticides is associated with alterations to the sperm epigenome, leading to transgenerational health effects. Her research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms underpinning epigenetic inheritance, paying particular interest to paternal health and how environmental exposures alter fertility, clinical outcomes, the sperm epigenome, and the development and health of offspring.

Dr Mthokozisi Sibanda will present research conducted by the Chemical Engineering team at the Institute of Applied Materials in collaboration with the UP ISMC, which resulted in the development of the Bi-KoTM slow-release technology of liquids (such as repellents) from fabric yarns. This led to his start-up, African Applied Chemical, which applies chemical engineering technology to solve problems in Africa.

“The discovery and development of safer alternatives, like botanicals, have provided promising prospects for the discovery of new interventions that are worth pursuing for novel natural malaria insecticides,” says Mcebisi Mabuza, co-chair of the UP ISMC Student Forum, who is finalising his MSc in Plant and Soil Sciences. 

The UP ISMC has a fully transdisciplinary approach to malaria research, as shown by the work of Danielle Oosthuizen, a UP ISMC Student Forum co-chair who is doing an MSc in Fine Arts and finding innovative ways to educate people about malaria and its challenges. “It is crucial to bridge the gap between science and society through science communication initiatives such as this webinar to inform people that safer and more sustainable alternatives to malaria vector control do exist and are continuously being researched and developed,” she says.

The webinar will be live-streamed on Friday, 6 November from 2pm to 3.30pm (SAST). If you would like to watch the discussion, click here to register for the event.


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