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Fifth annual conference of the Pan-African Mosquito Control Association: a movement is born

October 19, 2018 - 11:54 -- Malaria World

Silas Majambere, Mosquito Consulting

Mosquitoes are the deadliest animals in the world and their highest death toll and their impact on the economy is mostly felt in Africa. The Pan-African Mosquito Control Association (PAMCA) is a continental body that seeks to address this issue. The 5th Annual conference of PAMCA concluded on the 26th September 2018, in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The theme of the conference was: Building the bridge between research and implementation: a necessity for vector borne disease elimination in Africa, and its main goal was to identify ways in which academic institutions and researchers could inform vector control programme delivery across the continent.

Photo courtesy of Tich Muketiwa of Total Productions

The three-day conference hosted around 200 people, with delegates coming from 25 countries. A total of 60 oral presentations and seven plenary talks were given, and several posters were displayed across three days.  Six exhibitors, mainly from commercial companies manufacturing insecticides for bed nets and indoor residual spraying, displayed their products.

In addition to the very rich scientific discussions, an atmosphere of sisterhood and brotherhood developed within the side discussions, coffee break debates, and evening drinks around the pool or at the bar. New partnerships were formed, old friends reconnected and a renewed sense of purpose and solidarity in the fight against mosquito borne diseases was palpable.

Perhaps having one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Victoria Falls, a stone’s throw away from the conference venue added its magic to the atmosphere. One could hear conference attendees discussing plans to visit the falls and numerous other attractions before heading back home.

Left: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Photo courtesy of Silas Majambere
Right: Ashley, a 15 year old student from Mosi community school, addresses PAMCA delegates. Photo courtesy of Emma Orefuwa                                

Among many highlights of this year’s conference, three events stood out, and collectively represent the Pan-African spirit of the Association:

1. Closer to the communities we serve

A school choir from Mosi High School, the only community-built high school in Victoria Falls, performed an emotive rendition of the Zimbabwe national anthem and graced the conference attendees with two more songs, and a poem on malaria, forcing a standing ovation from the gathering. A 15 year old boy, Ashley, asked to address the meeting. He challenged the fact that school children are not involved in malaria control, recalling a time in primary school when they used to clean litter and fill potholes to prevent standing water serving as mosquito breeding.  His message aligned perfectly with the keynote address that emphasized the involvement of local communities in developing strategies for mosquito control. The PAMCA President promised the school that the local chapter of PAMCA in Zimbabwe will partner with local schools and communities for collective action towards malaria elimination.

2. A platform for women scientists

On the second day of the conference, a group of women attending the conference had a brief side meeting where they discussed the challenges and way forward for female scientists to develop their career in a male-dominated world. Key highlights of their conversation included barriers to career progression including the lack of mentorship and the various abuses women face in their work environment. Two representatives of the women’s group, Dr Theresia Nkya and Prof Lizette Koekemoer participated in a panel discussion where they discussed these issues with the rest of conference attendees. This session followed a recommendation made by a recent survey conducted for PAMCA revealing that of all medical entomologists that participated in the survey, only 27% were female. An outcome of the side meeting and deliberations was that PAMCA leadership will create a platform for women to discuss their specific challenges, foster networking and mentoring, and reach out to other women in order to constitute a solid movement for the advancement of their careers so that women may fully participate in the elimination of vector- borne diseases.

One of the side meeting participants advised her female colleagues: “Don’t give up no matter what – there is always a solution out there”.

Women’s group side meeting. Photo courtesy of Silas Majambere

3. Ubuntu: “I am because you are”

A personal story from one of the women attending the conference moved all the conference attendees. Before the conference, Dr Basiliana Emidi, a mother of two, reached out to PAMCA to ask for financial support to attend the meeting. Given many similar requests and the fact that PAMCA did not have financial means to provide support, her request was not fulfilled. Due to her commitment and sheer determination, Basiliana embarked on a 3 day bus trip from Tanzania to Zimbabwe via Zambia to attend the conference. When Dr Prosper Chaki, the PAMCA Executive Director heard of the story, he asked conference attendees to voluntarily contribute for her return air ticket. The solidarity around this call was remarkable. Within one hour of the call, conference attendees had contributed more than the air ticket fares. It was decided that the excess money raised would be used to start a Women’s Fund within PAMCA to support women who might face similar challenges.

Dr Basiliana Emidi showcasing her research during the 5th PAMCA Conference poster session and travelling home following the generous donations from PAMCA conference attendees

In her closing remarks at the end of the meeting, Emma Orefuwa, the co-founder of PAMCA summed up what PAMCA represented. Beyond being a gathering of professionals working to control vector-borne diseases, PAMCA is also a movement striving to give a voice to the community we serve, to remove barriers for women to participate fully in the fight against VBDs and to create an environment of solidarity and support. The meeting in Victoria Falls ignited a movement that will not stop until Africa is free from the crippling effects of VBDs. Next year Cameroon will carry the torch and we welcome you all to the beautiful city of Yaoundé.

Acknowledgments: Emma Orefuwa, Damaris Matoke and Prosper Chaki reviewed and improved the content. This blog was simultaneously published at PAMCA and MalariaWorld.