The Social Science of Malaria Control

Léa Paré Toé (Institut de Recherche en Sciences de la Santé – Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso) and  Javier Lezaun (Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, SAME) have been awarded an AfOx Research Development grant to expand their collaboration on the social science of malaria control in sub-Saharan Africa.

Their new project ‘Developing the Social Science of Malaria Control for Areas of High Transmission’ seeks to develop new social science methodologies tailored to areas of recalcitrant malaria transmission.

focus group discussion diebougou department photo by nourou barry irss dro

Focus group discussion, Diébougou Department (photo by Nourou Barry @IRSS-DRO)

Over the past two decades, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have achieved significant reductions in the mortality and morbidity associated with malaria, primarily as a result of improvements in their national health systems, and the wider availability of diagnostics, pharmaceutical treatments, and insecticide-treated bed nets.

Recently, however, this positive trend has been interrupted, and in some cases reversed. The reasons are complex and context-specific, but they include genetic and behavioural changes in the mosquito vector (leading to growing tolerance of insecticides, for example, or greater predisposition to biting outdoors or in the day-time) and a host of social, political and environmental factors that limit the effectiveness of traditional malaria control tools. These changes include human migration and displacement, landscape modifications associated with agriculture and mineral extraction, and civil unrest.

Tackling malaria in areas of high or recalcitrant transmission requires novel interventions, often targeting highly specific socio-ecological contexts, and robust participation by local communities and key stakeholders.

Social scientists have played a significant role in the design and evaluation of malaria control interventions in the past. They carried out critical research for the development of bed net distribution programmes, explored public perceptions of malaria diagnosis and treatment, or identified patterns of individual and collective action associated with greater exposure to mosquito bites.

This new AfOx Research Development project seeks to add to this repertoire of social science research strategies. The work will focus on three areas of social science innovation: 1) malaria transmission in artisanal mining areas; 2) processes of public participation adapted to the evaluation of modified malaria mosquito vectors; and 3) governance mechanisms to strengthen the assessment of malaria control options by national malaria control programmes.

facility to study mosquito swarming behaviour bama burkina faso photo by javier lezaun

Facility to study mosquito swarming behaviour. Bama, Burkina Faso (photo by Javier Lezaun)