The Vector Control Reference Unit has a long history and was originally known as the Department of Medical Entomology of the South African Institute for Medical Research (SAIMR). The SAIMR was established in 1914 to research, initially, diseases affecting workers on the gold mines of the Witwatersrand. This brief was extended later to encompass all of the pathology disciplines and to cover most of the country.
Established in 1924 by Dr. Alexander Ingram, the Department of Medical Entomology has enjoyed a long and illustrious history. Headed by Dr Botha de Meillon from 1930-1960, the Department lead the way in mosquito research showing that the malaria vectors rested inside houses and could be controlled by indoor spraying with pyrethrum insecticide. This work, reported at the League of Nations Pan-African Health Conference in 1936, resulted in Sir Gordon Covell successfully applying this technique for malaria control in India, and later, Dr. Fred Soper used the same approach to eradicate Anopheles gambiae from Brazil. Today, indoor house-spraying with residual insecticides is a major component of malaria control programmes throughout the world and particularly those aiming at malaria elimination. De Meillon wrote several standard works on insects of medical importance and authored or co-authored over 180 scientific papers.
Succeeding De Meillon as Head of Department was Prof. Fritz Zumpt who was an acknowledged expert on myiasis flies and wrote the standard text on this group of insects. Dr. John Ledger followed and revised the popular work by Skaife titled "African Insect Life" producing some exquisite colour photographs of insects in their natural environment. He also produced a major text on the lice of the sub-Saharan region. Prof Richard Hunt took over in1985 and led the Department into genetics and the molecular biology field. He was followed by Prof Maureen Coetzee who guided the Unit through the transformation process that resulted in the SAIMR becoming the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) and the Department of Entomology becoming the Vector Control Reference Unit (VCRU). Dr Lizette Koekemoer has headed the VCRU since 2008, having been in charge of the mosquito molecular laboratory for many years.
The Malaria Entomology Research Unit was established in 2009 and was formed in recognition of the contributions of the VCRU to research and teaching of University post-graduate students. The Director is Prof Maureen Coetzee who holds a DST/NRF Research Chair in Medical Entomology.