Contributing to the global efforts of eradicating malaria
Oumou Kalsom Gueye is a PhD Fellow at the Malaria Research Capacity Development Consortium (MARCAD) based at the Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar (UCAD). MARCAD is one of the 11 Developing Excellence, Leadership and Training in Science in Africa (DELTAS Africa) programmes, which funds Africa-based scientists to amplify the development of world-class research and scientific leadership on the continent while strengthening African institutions. DELTAS Africa is implemented through the AESA Platform (Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa), a funding, agenda setting and programme management platform created by the African Academy of Sciences (AAS), the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), founding and funding global partners, and through a resolution of the summit of African Union Heads of Governments. DELTAS Africa is supported by Wellcome and the United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO formerly DFID).
I am one of few women passionate about mosquitoes and committed to a field predominantly occupied by men. I successfully completed a Masters of Medical entomology in 2016 at the Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar, Senegal, under the Malaria Capacity Development Consortium (MCDC). This has led to my MARCAD funded PhD that studies the mating behaviour and genetic differentiation of two main vectors of malaria in Senegal. I plan to pursue a post-doc before transitioning into an independent researcher. My aspiration is to save lives by contributing to better characterisation of insects that transmit deadly disease such as malaria.
Although much progress has been made against malaria, it is disturbing to witness people still losing their lives to this preventable and curable disease. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2018, 11 million pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa were infected with malaria with nearly 900,000 children born with low birthweight. The Global Health Community must do more to protect the most vulnerable in the fight against a disease that continues to claim more than 400,000 lives every year. The WHO states that in the absence of efficient treatments or vaccines, vector control is the most effective method to prevent this disease. However, to be cost-effective and target places with the highest potential impact, vector control intervention requires a detailed characterisation of the targeted vector population, to which my work contributes. Moreover, there is an urgent need for new and innovative vector control approaches to understand insecticide resistance. A promising approach is to genetically modify mosquitoes to suppress or replace their current populations by making them sterile or through other beneficial genetic modification. My work examines the reproductive behaviour of targeted mosquito species and their genetic structure, and focuses on speciation as well as the biology, ecology and reproduction behaviour of the two main malaria vectors across the sub-Saharan region.
Preliminary results elucidate the swarming behaviour of two mosquito species in Senegal, An. coluzzii and An. Gambiae, revealing possible pre-mating reproductive isolation between the two. Since these species share genetic material, they could be exploited to spread desirable genes across their populations. My work also highlights resistance to the main insecticide used in nets, which, if not managed effectively, could jeopardize progress against malaria in Senegal. This work also suggests potential approaches to environmentally friendly malaria control.
An early challenge by one of my mentors, the late renowed Malian Malariaologist, Prof Oggobara Doumboto, to present my work in English despite my lack of proficiency in it left me with a determination to rise to such challenges. My DELTAS Africa (MARCAD) fellowship has provided me with the opportunity to work with role models such as him and Dr El Hadji Amadou Niang, Prof Charles S. Wondji, Dr Abdoulaye Diabate and Prof Frederic Tripet. In addition to excellent training opportunities and extending my networking portfolio, the MARCAD fellowship has allowed me to share my work at prestigious international scientific meetings such as ASTMH and PAMCA. These rich experiences have paved my way to succeed in achieving my personal and professional career development plan.
In Africa, there are many good minds who are diverted from the scientific path to success for lack of postdoctoral opportunities and/or because they feed the channels of the Brain Drain when offered opportunities abroad, causing the continent to lose the brightest minds who could have substantially contributed to Africa’s development. The continent needs to provide young people with the opportunity to pursue highly competitive postdoctoral training while staying in Africa and contributing to tearing down the continent’s major health and developmental roadblocks. DELTAS Africa, through its several programmes including MARCAD, has this vision and is currently addressing this issue; I am lucky to have the opportunity and to maximise on it.
The DELTAS Africa (MARCAD) programme has enabled to work in an environment where I am supervised and mentored by the most promising and inspiring leaders in my field. It is the steppingstone on which I build my career, equipping me with the advanced skill required and the chance to broaden my professional networks. Additionally, through this programme I have gained confidence as well as the scientific, technical and soft skills to drive success.