Malaria: New findings suggest focus on human behaviour


New findings suggest that researchers should not just focus on mosquito behaviour when working to eliminate malaria, but to also consider how humans behave at night.

The suggestion followed a recent study from the Johns Hopkins Centre for Communication Programmes (CCP), Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The study recommended that “wherever possible, researchers should not just focus on mosquito behaviour when working to eliminate malaria, but must also consider how humans behave at night when the risk of being bitten by an infected mosquito is highest.”

A CCP-led review article published in Malaria Journal in January finds that while there is substantial research into when malaria mosquitoes bite, when they are most active and which species are most likely to spread disease, very little study considers the other side of the equation.

April Monroe, Senior Programme Officer at the CCP who led the research said “the neglected piece has really been human behaviour. There has been a big focus on mosquito behaviour but you have to look at mosquitoes and people together to really understand what is going on and how to reduce malaria risk. Insecticide-treated nets are our best tool for preventing malaria right now, but we also know that nets alone won’t be sufficient to bring the number of malaria cases to zero.”

While studies had shown that most people who had nets used them, there were times when mosquitoes bite and it might not be possible to use a net.

“These include while doing household chores and socialising in the evening before bed, as well as during outdoor night-shift jobs, such as providing security or fishing, and while attending community events.’’

After conducting the review, Monroe and her colleagues recommend that researchers use a standardised approach to measuring both human and mosquito behaviour across time and settings.

This information, she says, is essential for targeting existing tools, social and behaviour change interventions and the development and deployment of prevention tools to complement bed nets and indoor spraying.

Monroe says “people are still getting malaria, even in places where there is broad use of bed nets, so we need to fill these research gaps and make decisions on how to better protect people. A greater understanding of human behaviour and the interaction of humans and mosquitoes is crucial if we are going to eliminate malaria”, she concluded.

Bilkisu Pai