Bold Thinking at Abt: Global Health Security

Dereje Dengela

Presidents Malaria Initiative (PMI) AIRS Technical Director and Entomologist
Entomological monitoring, malaria

Mosquitoes are small but deadly, and getting in the minds of mosquitoes is part of the work of Dereje Dengela. Each year, over 400,000 people die from malaria, a mosquito-transmitted disease. Most of these deaths are among children under five. As Abt Associates’ entomologist and technical director of the President’s Malaria Initiative Africa Indoor Residual Spraying Project (PMI AIRS), Dengela knows what mosquitoes do matters to people everywhere.

Dengela and his team of over 30 researchers across 19 countries connect the dots between mosquito behaviors and the actions communities and governments need to take to reduce malaria deaths.

Mosquitoes are complex, Dengela warns, and there are 30 different species of mosquitoes that transmit malaria. Not all vector species may live in an area with malaria, not all species may respond to insecticide treatment similarly.

Since the PMI AIRS project launched in 2005, over 48 million people have been protected from malaria. In large part, this number has to do with the grounded science that supports decisions on mosquito control.

“Entomological monitoring is key,” Dengela says. “It helps us know what insecticide is effective, in which areas, in which countries. It also helps us to know where those mosquitos rest, indoors or outdoors, if they bite early or late at night. Mosquito behavior and their response to insecticides need to be monitored on an annual basis. Mosquitoes’ response to insecticide is not static, it’s dynamic.”

While the entomologists are working to stay ahead of changes in mosquito behavior and insecticide resistance, Dengela also knows that resources are finite and a strategic approach must be taken to protect large populations.

“We cannot spray every house everywhere for mosquitoes,” he says. “That is why the data is important. The distribution of mosquitoes is not uniform everywhere. If we have a strong entomological monitoring system, we can target those areas with high risk with the amount of money we have to get the maximum benefit in terms of saving lives.”

Moreover, from all of that data Dengela and his team have collected, he knows that the people who need the data most are not always peer-review journal editors. “The research work should not be for publication. It should be to inform the program. The publishing process can take years. The National Malaria Control Program needs to receive the data immediately.”

Because of this mission, Dengela knows his work is making a difference.  “I know we implement a program that works. I’m confident about that based on data, based on information; it’s evidence-supported. That makes me proud of the work we do.”

Areas of Expertise

  • Entomology
  • Vector competence
  • Malaria control