HEALTH

Utah scientists fly out to Mali as the first to help villagers fight malaria

Jun 12, 2023, 6:25 PM | Updated: Jun 13, 2023, 7:30 am

SALT LAKE CITY — A group of Utah scientists flew to Africa on Monday as some of the first to work on anti-malaria in Mali.

Three years ago, a Utah nonprofit reached out to scientists with the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District to help reduce malaria in West Africa.

The Ouelessebougou Alliance, named after a territory in Africa, has made countless efforts since 1986 for anti-malaria prevention in Mali.

Richard Loomis, a board member of the nonprofit for 35 years, has visited Mali a handful of times.

“It is not a place that you would go for a vacation,” Loomis said. “It is, unfortunately, a very undeveloped country. And when it comes to controlling malaria, their best effort is trying to supply bed nets to the population.”

A Deseret News headline on the Ouelessebougou Alliance in 1986. (KSL TV)

Loomis and others with Ouelessebougou Alliance have provided nets but decided it was time to work towards a greater reduction in infection rates.

Greg White and Jason Hardman with the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District volunteered to help.

“We want to at least demonstrate that these methods that we use so effectively here can be used in other places,” White said.

Prevention includes more than just using mosquito nets or spraying pesticides.

“First you have to educate people about mosquitoes, mosquito control, where to find mosquitoes, how to trap mosquitoes, and what to do after you do all those things,” Hardman said. “Then, hopefully, we can turn the program over, and they can start doing it themselves.”

White and Hardman will fly out to Mali for 10 days to show villagers how to check the different mosquito larvae species to know what pesticides to use and other reduction measures.

“We want this to be a sustainable project, and so, we’re just providing expertise,” White said. “Then the locals are going to be the ones who do all the work.”

Salt Lake researchers looking at mosquitos infected with Malaria. (KSL TV)

That’s where Anounou Sissoko comes in.

Sissoko grew up in Mali and had been traveling back and forth from his home to Salt Lake City to help prepare White and Hardman for the trip.

“In each village, there’s at least three children who die every year from Malaria, and every adult gets it at least once or two times a year,” Sissoko said.

Even Sissoko had Malaria before his most recent trip to Salt Lake – for three weeks, he couldn’t eat anything.

The World Health Organization reports nearly 12 million people have died since 2000, and cases increased during the pandemic because supplies weren’t shipped to villagers. Pregnant women and children are most vulnerable to death by malaria.

A sobering reality that has made White and Hardman’s volunteer work even more meaningful.

“I can’t help but get emotional,” Hardman said. “I can’t even explain the opportunity that this is to make change, not just here, but in a country that really needs it.”

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Utah scientists fly out to Mali as the first to help villagers fight malaria