Genus genius at work

Malaria. (AFP)

Malaria. (AFP)

Aedes (Coetzeemyia) may not mean much to the uninitiated, but to Professor Maureen Coetzee of the University of the Witwatersrand it represents recognition of her work studying malaria mosquitoes over the past 39 years. 

It refers to an insect that was named in her honour, a sub-genus of mosquito that is found in the Indian Ocean region and, ironically, does not transmit malaria.

Coetzee has numerous other accolades to her name for her life’s work, much of which has been conducted under her Medical Entomology and Vector Control Research Chair since 2008.

“The biggest problem facing malaria control in Africa is the emergence of insecticide resistance that has escalated exponentially in the past five years or so,” says Coetzee. “While this problem is less pronounced in South Africa thanks to effective malaria control programmes in affected provinces, it has reached alarming levels in countries such as Zimbabwe and Zambia.”

Coetzee maintains that although South Africa does not face this problem, the country cannot remain complacent. 

This means that her research group is kept busy with surveillance programmes to ensure that control initiatives in South Africa remain effective. Given that Africa accounts for 85% of the world’s malaria cases and 90% of its malaria deaths, South Africa stands out as one of the few exceptional cases on the continent.

“Apart from contributing to the control programmes, our research work also involves studying Africa’s more than 140 mosquito species. In the past year alone we have named two previously undescribed species in work that contributes to the global malaria knowledge base,” she says.

She has been successful in recruiting postgraduate students into her research programme, despite the fact  that medical entomology is not one of the more popular branches of zoology: this year she has five postdoctoral fellows on her programme, whereas five years ago she had none.

Coetzee says that developing these skills in this critical research field is important to continue the group’s work and to continue to contribute to the fields of medical entomology and vector control, in which South Africa has gained a prominent global position.

This supplement has been paid for by Department of Science and Technology and its contents signed off by the DST and the National Research Foundation.