Credit: Target Malaria

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Dr Mamadou Coulibaly,
Head of vector genomics lab and Principal investigator, Target Malaria Mali

My team in Mali is part of an international, not-for-profit research consortium called Target Malaria. We are part of an effort to combat malaria at its source, by targeting the mosquitoes themselves; the Anopheles gambiae complex.

Our aim is to develop and share an innovative vector control tool that reduces the population of malaria mosquitoes in sub-Saharan Africa and hopefully reduces the transmission of the disease. A vector refers to an organism – typically a biting insect or tick, that transmits a disease or parasite between humans or from animals to humans. This vector control tool would be complementary to the ones already existing and to any new ones under development.

The success of our research will not only be measured by our scientific achievements but also by the acceptance and involvement of affected communities in our research. As a project, we are committed to developing something that is useful and responds to the expectations of communities living with the burden of malaria.

We work closely with local communities

Co-development is at the heart of our work. We want to make sure our new tool meets the needs of the affected populations and we can only do this by involving them in our efforts and research activities.

Since the start of the project in Mali in 2012, Target Malaria has engaged various, in-country stakeholders with a specific focus on local communities where we conduct our research activities. In the communities where we work, we are ­– at this stage – mainly focused on mosquito collections and engagement activities. Mosquitos collections are necessary to gather baseline data on mosquito population and dynamics. Engagement is necessary to seek consent and/or acceptance for those activities.

We engage the local communities by establishing an ongoing dialogue to explain, in complete transparency, our research and inform them on our progress. This engagement is extended to the regional and the national level (including but not limited to national authorities, civil society and the media to disseminate information on several levels).

Translating our scientific progress to local communities can be complex

With the development of new technologies come new challenges. For our team in Mali, we had to ask ourselves how to best communicate our advancements in science to local communities in the local language. Science can be complex to translate into easily understandable and accessible terms. All languages have their nuances and we wanted to make sure we had the right words to convey the right concepts.

Our team worked with local communities and the National Directorate for Non-Formal Education and National Languages (DNENF – LN) to develop a glossary, which has since become the basis of our engagement in local language. All the concepts and terms present in our glossary have been validated with the communities and we believe this has strengthened our relationship and communication with local stakeholders. We continue to work on translating scientific concepts to make our results dynamic as we move forward.

Responsible and ethical development to combat malaria

We believe that the early commitment of Target Malaria to stakeholder engagement is key in the success of the co-development of our new tool for malaria control. We want to responsibly and ethically develop a new vector control tool that will hopefully contribute to the wider efforts of combatting this preventable disease that still kills half a million people across the world each year.