Leading the fight against malaria

‘The death of a child has a devastating impact on a woman,” says Grace Chitima Mugumbate, a PhD researcher at the University of Cape Town.

“It is a kind of loss that keeps a woman from functioning at her full potential, so malaria can affect the development of women in Africa.”

Her research is aimed at determining the structure of the receptor that binds to the hormone responsible for generating energy for the Anopheles mosquito during flight. This project will ultimately lead to the development of an insecticide specific to the mosquito and help to reduce the cases of malaria.

Mugumbate chose a career in chemistry, which she describes as a challenging discipline but a whole lot of fun. She enjoys working in the laboratory and observing the changes that occur during a chemical reaction.

“Being able to explain these changes and applying them in day-to-day life when solving problems or discovering new breakthroughs through research makes chemistry really exciting,” she says.

Mugumbate holds a master’s in analytical chemistry, for which she was named the best student for 2004. She also obtained a graduate certificate in education and a BSc honours in chemistry from the University of Zimbabwe.

From 2004 to 2006 she lectured at Midlands State University, Zimbabwe. Through her position as assistant project coordinator of the Midlands science and technology development committee, she had the opportunity to contribute to the ministry of science and development’s initiatives to address pressing issues in Zimbabwe. She assisted in projects such as finding alternative energy sources and extracting active ingredients in aloe vera for the treatment of a variety of diseases, including HIV/Aids.

“Women are most vulnerable biologically and socially to these diseases,” she says.

Mugumbate was also a member of the girls’ bridging course committee, representing the department of chemical technology at Midlands State University. The committee was tasked with establishing a bridging programme for girls who wanted to pursue studies in the sciences.

“I was happy to be a member of this committee,” she says, “because it was aimed at exposing more women to the field of science.”

Mugumbate also taught chemistry at Fletcher High School. The learners who studied maths, physics, chemistry and biology were mostly boys. “When I joined the school I started interacting with the girls and encouraging them to take science subjects at A-level,” she recounts.

Her involvement with the girls and her other achievements led to her being invited as a chemistry tutor to the first Unesco-sponsored girls’ science camp held in Zimbabwe. “My involvement with girls and women at different levels has inspired me to become involved in a range of activities that encourage the development of women in my home country and in Africa as a whole,” she says.

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