At the tender age of seven, I was told in the most derogatory sense –your education will only end up in the kitchen. This instead spurred me onto the opposite trajectory buthas been an uphill task. Growing up, I was curious about the diversity and functioning systems of living things. How on earth did a caterpillar become such a colorful insect? How did insects pollinate plants and how did plants take in nutrients from the soil? This curiosity led me to read biology education as my first degree, which exposed me to the morphological differences in the developmental phases of some insects especially mosquitoes-our resident enemy. Malaria, a matter of life and death, inflicted upon humanity by an insect so small one would naturally ignore it. However, unlike the sister, Yellow fever – another disease transmitted by Aedes mosquito, an insect with white stripes on the legs – malaria has no vaccine.
I have survived, I have watched my children battle and survive the malaria experience, episode after episode. Thus, when I had a chance to further my studies, I went for a master’s degree in Applied Entomology and Parasitology with a project on Aedes (Stegomyia) aegypti. Thereafter, as a vital necessity, I finally took on Anopheles gambiae sl for a full time Ph.D. research in Medical Entomology and Parasitology. At the start of my Ph.D program, I was queried thus : Why take all that road risk into fragile and volatile rural areas abandoning your family to study a tiny insect, why not study elephant.
During my Ph.D. field work picking up indoor resting mosquitoes, adult males in my team were prohibited from entering some female private rooms, however, I was granted access. In the course of the asymptomatic malaria cross-sectional survey, participants were told that subjects that were pregnant would be sent to their doctors for special medication if they are tested positive to malaria from the rapid diagnostic test on the field. In communities where cultural norms prevented women from speaking with men, they freely but discreetly notified me of their yet to be visible pregnant status. More women than men queued up with all their children and some were ready to fight for their children to be tested and treated. In the same vain, women provided me with essential and sometimes sensitive details that gave me insight into the determinants, distribution pathways, and home management of diseases afflicting them.
My trajectory into medical entomology instead of ‘elephantology’ is an inescapable imperative. Curiosity is satisfied, but the battle is not over. Since the insects are not done, my work is not yet done. The typical African girl child must overcome near insurmountable barriers to attain education, more so higher education in the sciences. The roadblocks require tons of courage, resilience, and huge financial sacrifice to achieve anything meaningful. Against all odds I have been able to contribute valuable data to the malaria database being the first female entomologist from my village! Heads up fellow females – DON’T GIVE UP !