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Entomologist takes on mosquitoes, malaria, wins award

- Wits University

Professor Lizette Koekemoer has won the Women in Vector Control (WiVC) Excellence Award in the Senior Career category.

Koekemoer is a Research Professor and the co-Director of the Wits Research Institute for Malaria (WRIM) at Wits.

She received the award from the Pan-African Mosquito Control Association (PAMCA) at the 9th PAMCA Annual Conference and Exhibition held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 21 September 2023.

Wits Prof. Lizette Koekemoer LEFT receives the PAMCA Women in Vector Control Award from Dr Helen Jamet of BMGF 600x300

As an entomologist, Koekemoer studies insects – specifically mosquitoes that are vectors of malaria. Vectors are living organisms that can transmit infectious pathogens between humans, or from animals to humans. The Anopheles mosquito is the vector of a parasite that causes malaria.

The award recognises Koekemoer’s “astounding work” in the field of vector-borne diseases (VBDs), her leadership, and keen understanding of the important role she plays in science and in her community.

Koekemoer says, “This award celebrates and reflects all the hard work of a conglomerate of postgraduate students, collaborators, funders, and co-workers – and I also salute them”.

With more than two decades of research experience, Koekemoer has led multiple projects focusing on malaria vector systematics, insecticide resistance and the molecular mechanisms involved, and transmission-blocking strategies.

Major projects include:

  • Reduction of malaria transmission in the mosquito through drug discovery
  • Research to reduce malaria transmission from outdoor biting mosquitoes through zooprophylaxis (the use of wild or domestic animals, which are not the reservoir host of a given disease, to divert the blood-seeking malaria vectors from human hosts)
  • Increasing knowledge of vector biologicals and genetics
  • Bionomics of malaria vectors (bionomics is the relationship between organisms and their environment).

Anopheles mosquito mating male on left and female on right_Melika Hajkazemian Emami Lab 600x300

Koekemoer has published 108 papers and has supported malaria control programmes across South Africa's provinces. She has provided in-country support of malaria control programmes in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Malawi, Nigeria, and Namibia.

Over her 25-year career, she has supervised/co-supervised or hosted 74 students and trained numerous scientists, colleagues, and students in molecular species-identification and morphological identifications.

She is a member of the Entomological Society of Southern Africa, Health Professions Council of South Africa, Molecular and Cell Biology Group, and she is the South African Malaria Elimination Committee Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society (London).