Dr Nwamaka: ‘science has to be one step ahead to beat malaria’
Dr Nwamaka Akpodiete, malaria researcher and biologist from Nigeria, explains how science and technology from around the world is battling to stay one step ahead of malaria – and why she believes women and girls should be leaders in the fight.
Malaria researcher Dr Nwamaka Akpodiete is from Nigeria, where malaria is part of everyday life. She was inspired to pursue a PhD after witnessing increasing insecticide resistance among malaria-carrying mosquitoes – a phenomenon that put outdoor workers like her father at risk of serious illness. She wondered if she could help fight back by advancing scientific research through vector biology: studying the evolution of mosquitoes.
Nwamaka is currently a research associate with Target Malaria, based at the Centre for Applied Entomology and Parasitology (CAEP) at Keele University in the UK. She also helps train researchers in Africa to expand capacity to fight malaria on the continent.
Chatting to David Beckham on the set of the latest Draw The Line Against Malaria film, Nwamaka shared why she believes it’s so important that women and girls are at the forefront of the fight against malaria: “Women are disproportionately affected by malaria, especially when they are pregnant, with the reduced immunity that comes with pregnancy. The stats show that they are more vulnerable, they are more likely to have severe disease,” Nwamaka explains, “There’s also the economic aspect of malaria. When a child is sick, mostly the mother has to stay back to take care of the child.”
"The challenge is that the parasite and the mosquitoes keep evolving. Science has to be one step ahead."
Nwamaka also knows the positive impact that can happen when more women and girls get involved in science. She has a message for young girls who want to be scientists like her: “Believe in yourself. You have something to give, harness your potential … Do something to change the world!”
Innovation and impressive new tools are offering fresh hope and vision in the fight against malaria. “There’s the malaria vaccine, I found that very exciting,” Nwamaka says, “Also, there’s the gene drive technology – which the group I work with, Target Malaria, is championing. Basically, the end-game is to reduce wild mosquito population using genetic technologies by affecting mosquito reproduction capacity. Gene drive is a technology that biases the laws of heredity to spread a trait through a population more quickly than it would happen naturally, forcing that gene into a population’s offspring. If our technology works and is safe to use and if regulatory authorities approve its use, it has the potential to be an effective tool to complement existing ones and help to fight malaria in Africa”.
"The challenge is that the parasite and the mosquitoes keep evolving. Tracking their evolution is part of my work." Nwamaka explains, "Science has to be one step ahead."
To end malaria, we need to bring together science, funding, community, bold vision and leadership. Join the Zero Malaria movement today.