Keeping cattle safe from parasites can help protect us from malaria

Posted on April 24, 2023

“Time to deliver zero malaria: invest, innovate, implement” is the theme of the World Malaria Day, celebrated on 25 April 2023, and this is exactly what Takalani Makhanthisa, Dr Heike Lutermann (Department of Zoology & Entomology) and Professor Leo Brack (Institute for Sustainable Malaria Control, UP) set out to do.

Malaria is caused by blood-borne parasites (Plasmodium species) and transmitted by insects such as Anopheles mosquitoes. In 2020, 241 million malaria cases and 627 000 deaths were recorded globally, 95% of which occurred in Africa. Between 2000 and 2015, the application of insecticides on house walls and bed nets achieved substantial reductions in malaria cases. However, mosquitoes have developed resistance to these insecticides, shifted to outdoor feeding and now include livestock (e.g., cattle) as hosts, curbing eradication efforts. In fact, in 2020 case numbers increased by 14 million compared to 2019. Urgent action is needed to reverse this trend.

In her MSc (Entomology) project, Takalani tested the use of endectocides, chemicals used to treat livestock against arthropod ectoparasites and worms, for malaria control. Applying either ivermectin or fipronil in Nguni cross-breed cattle increased mortality of blood-feeding Anopheles females up to 60% and reduced the number of eggs they layed by 60% to 90%. This suggests that these drugs could provide an effective supplement to traditional control. However, these effects were limited to a few weeks and the drugs are expensive.

Malaria is a disease of poverty and while livestock owners in the heavily malaria-burdened Vhembe region, Limpopo Province, indicated in interviews conducted by Takalani a high willingness to enroll their cattle in such treatment programs, they mostly lack the financial means to do so. The reinstatement of government programs for the treatment of livestock could address this issue and help to improve human and animal health while reducing poverty – a true One Health approach.


Takalani Makhanthisa placing cups containing Anopheles mosquitoes on cattle treated with endectocides to assess how the treatment affects mosquito survival and the number of eggs they lay.

- Author Dr Heike Lutermann

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