Towards ending Malaria: Spotlight on Africa University’s Zimbabwe Entomological Support program in Malaria (AU/ZENTO)

In 2016, Africa University’s then Dean of the College of Health, Agriculture and Natural Sciences Professor Sungano Mharakurwa had a dream of finally eradicating Malaria from Africa. At the time, Manicaland, where Africa University is situated, was in the grips of a surge of the disease which disproportionately affects the continent at large. According to the *World Health Organization  (WHO), in 2022, nearly 94% (233 million) of malaria cases and 95% (580 000)  of malaria deaths were in Africa. Children under 5 constituted nearly 80% of all malaria deaths in this region.

With funding from the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) (a United States government initiative aimed at diminishing malaria deaths in  African countries) and  USAID , a malaria reference insectary unit was opened at Africa University, a first of its kind at any higher education institution in Zimbabwe. Now, 7 years later, the operation has grown into a major hub for the research of  mosquitos in Zimbabwe, feeding into the Zimbabwe Government’s Ministry of Health and Child Care’s National Malaria Control Program (MoHCC NMCP), collecting, cataloguing and breeding mosquitoes for malaria research. Now known as AU/ZENTO, the project reached yet another milestone when in August 2023, it became the first private institution in Zimbabwe to enter its data into the global District Health Information System (DHIS2).

Professor Sungano Mharakurwa is today the Chief of Party of AU/ZENTO and reflected on the numerous achievements of the program saying, “Our support is currently based on a number of agreed milestones in line with the overall mandate of ZENTO which is to provide live entomological surveillance reference material, capacity development and technical data for guiding malaria control alongside strategic planning and policy decisions of the MoHCC NMCP. We have consistently met our milestones and performance indicators, translating into program impact in our maiden support districts of Manicaland. On the strength of our program delivery, we have recently been further supported to expand our technical and geographic scope to now include regular entomological surveillance and systematic vector insecticide resistance monitoring in Manicaland and Mashonaland East provinces. “

Professor Sungano Mharakurwa AU/ZENTO Chief of Party

Professor Mharakurwa remains hopeful that his work and that of his team will not only mitigate the impacts of malaria in Zimbabwe and beyond, but will lead to the realization of the ultimate goal, eradication. With a vision towards increasing capacity in parasitology, Professor Mharakurwa laid bare his aspirations to take AU/ZENTO to the next level. “To ultimately conquer malaria, we need to incorporate parasitological surveillance in our partnership. We have both the passion and capabilities within our team but we need additional support specific to the parasitological domain. Towards realizing our vision, we will endeavor to show proof of concept of our capabilities and to pursue any funding opportunities for support that may be available in the near or distant future. We look to continue striving for program success and further growth to cover greater geographical areas plagued by malaria on the strength of our partnership with the PMI and MoHCC.”

In a recent visit to the AU/ZENTO program, Dr. Erik Reaves, Centres for Disease Control Malaria Advisor said that the partnership has yielded positive results with Africa University being a model of excellence in the field speaking to the sustained progress in behavioral mapping, morphological analysis and insecticide efficacy measurement. He said, “Africa University has a global impact .The milestones we have realized together  are  remarkable and AU/ZENTO has never failed to deliver. Our support continues and we are happy to have purchased a sequencer and other laboratory equipment to enable them to manage their workflow.” 

Dr. Erik Reaves, Centers for Disease Control Malaria Advisor

AU/ZENTO is not only a mosquito reference unit.  It is growing into an invaluable knowledge hub that trains, educates and contributes to the global discourse on malaria, understanding vectors and managing the proliferation of the disease by developing hard hitting research that has already gained renown receiving a total of 10 international awards on the strength of scientific merit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charmaine Matimba (right) receiving her certificate of participation at the completion of the training from Elizabeth Mkutumula, Safeguarding Officer, Malawi Liverpool Wellcome Programme and Nobert Mudare (left) receiving his certificate of participation at the completion of the training from El Hadji Amadou Niang, Interim Director of Scientific Programs, PAMCA. The ceremony took place on the 16th of September 2023 at the Skylight Hotel Addis Ababa Ethiopia. Nobert and Charmaine hope to raise awareness and strategies for preventing and addressing safeguarding issues in malaria research and programs in order to foster a safe and respectful workplace.

Photo Credit: Billy Tene, Medical entomologist at CRID Cameroon

Another AU/ZENTO program scientist Xuxa Gara ,who is  the Deputy Insectary Manager received the  Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA) scholarship to attend an entomological training course in taxonomy and systematics of African flies. She was selected out of 45 candidates.

Xuxa and two other trainees (Donath from Rwanda and Arlene from Burundi) identify specimens during the training on 23 October 2023 at Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro, Tanzania. The training helped Xuxa have more skills in taxonomy and pinning of specimens for future reference. Photo credit: Dr. Kurt Jordaens – workleader RMCA

Professor Mharakurwa was also a recipient of the prestigious American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) global competitive travel award to present scientific findings from his NIH-supported work on the malaria parasite at the 72nd ASTMH meeting that was held in Chicago Illinois in October 2023. The track record of excellence that has become standard in the AU/ZENTO program bears testimony to Africa University’s continued investment in Africa’s future and its sustained development through strategic partners such as PMI, USAID and the MoHCC.

*Source: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/malaria