Transforming Futures: USAID Mission Director Visits Africa University’s ZENTO Program, Pioneering Malaria Research and Development

Key points:

  1. USAID Director’s Visit: USAID Mission Director Jenean Davis visited Africa University’s ZENTO program, recognizing its groundbreaking efforts in malaria research and development.
  2. Impactful Research: ZENTO, established in 2021, has become a leading force in malaria research, boasting the country’s largest mosquito database and significantly reducing the malaria burden in Manicaland.
  3. Partnership and Support: USAID’s ongoing support for Africa University underscores a vital partnership in advancing education, research, and development across Africa, fostering sustainable solutions and empowering future leaders.
  4. Community Impact: Investment in malaria research is crucial for addressing the disease’s public health impact and economic burden, with efforts focusing on developing treatments, combating drug-resistant malaria strains, as well as insecticide-resistant vector mosquitoes, and implementing effective vector control methods.

______________________________________________________________

In the heart of Manicaland, ground-breaking research initiatives at Africa University are leading the charge against prevalent public health challenges and economic burdens. At the helm of this crusade stands the Zimbabwe Entomological Support Programme in Malaria (ZENTO), a beacon of hope dedicated to pioneering research aimed at addressing pressing health issues. The recent visit on February 6th, 2024, by the USAID Mission Director, Jenean Davis, highlighted the program’s significant strides in this ongoing battle. With a steadfast focus on mitigating the impact of malaria, the ZENTO program epitomizes the university’s commitment to advancing scientific knowledge for the betterment of communities across the continent.

USAID Mission Director Jenean Davis

Beyond the immediate health concerns, malaria’s economic toll is felt heavily across affected regions. On the continent, productivity losses and treatment expenses underscore the necessity for comprehensive approaches to alleviate these economic ramifications. Moreover, amidst influences like climate change and urbanization, adaptive strategies are imperative. Led by programs like ZENTO, research endeavours not only aim to comprehend these complexities, but also strive to develop proactive measures to halt the spread of malaria to new districts and regions.

Since its inception in 2021, the ZENTO program has burgeoned into a force to be reckoned with, boasting the largest database for malaria vector bionomics, and the largest colony of reference mosquitoes in the country. Their research has not only informed national policy, but also led to a significant reduction in Manicaland’s malaria disease burden, dropping from the top spot to number three in just a few years. This remarkable achievement has positioned ZENTO at the forefront of excellence in Southern Africa for malaria research, earning accolades from USAID, as a prime example of the power of local investment, empowerment, and capacity-building within African countries.

During a courtesy call with the Mission Director, Vice Chancellor Reverend Professor Peter Mageto lauded the establishment of the ZENTO program as a game-changer and expressed anticipation for the continued growth of the university’s relationship with USAID. He emphasized the university’s commitment to delivering on its mandate, noting its focus, not only on the mind but also on health and spirit — a testament to Africa University’s dedication to reshaping narratives across the continent.

USAID Mission Director Jenean Davis (Center) and VC Rev. Prof. Mageto (Far right) pose for a picture with ZENTO lab scientists

Investment in malaria research emerges as a critical component in addressing the disease’s significant public health impact and economic burden. With millions of cases reported annually, particularly in low-income countries, the urgency for innovative prevention methods and effective treatments cannot be overstated. The emergence of drug-resistant strains, and insecticide-resistant vector mosquitoes, further underscores the necessity for sustained research efforts, alongside investment in vector control methods.

In recognizing the numerous areas of collaboration between Africa University and USAID, Professor Mageto highlighted the Fulbright Scholars Program and the EDUSA Hub, as pivotal initiatives fostering staff and student development and enhancing global competitiveness. USAID Mission Director Ms. Davis expressed profound appreciation for Africa University’s stewardship and leadership, emphasizing the strong emphasis both entities place on youth and development. USAID’s continuous assistance to Africa University underscores a vital partnership in advancing education, research, and development across the African continent, demonstrating a commitment to fostering sustainable solutions and empowering future generations of leaders.

VC Prof. Mageto and Mission Director Davies share a lighter moment during a display wile on tour of the ZENTO insectary

As the visit concluded, Ms. Davis toured the ZENTO labs and Insectary led by ZENTO Chief of Party, Professor Sungano Mharakurwa, where she witnessed first-hand the program’s innovative approach and impactful research initiatives. Commending the dedication of the staff, Ms. Davis expressed confidence in the ZENTO program’s potential to drive positive change in the country and beyond. Her visit underscored USAID’s unwavering support for Africa University’s endeavours in research, education, and development, reaffirming a shared commitment to advancing health, prosperity, and innovation throughout Africa.