Dr Mamadou Coulibaly
With an early interest and a keen intellectual curiosity for science, Dr. Mamadou Coulibaly obtained his doctorate degree in Pharmacy in 1999 in his home country of Mali. During his thesis, he focused on insecticide resistance in the context of vector-control method against malaria. Among only two recipients for his whole country, he received a scholarship from the Clinton Health Initiative to further his scientific training at the University of Notre Dame, Illinois, USA. He obtained his PhD in Biological Sciences in 2006. This thesis was on the inversion break points characterization in the choice of ecological niches.
Dr Coulibaly returned to Mali with a passion for molecular biology, genetics and ethology and a willingness to contribute to treating infectious diseases in his country. Malaria is one of the primary causes of death in Mali, claiming particularly the lives of young children and pregnang women. In 2017 alone, the WHO reported that there were 1.9 million reported confirmed cases (7.2 million estimated cases) and more than 1,000 reported deaths (12,400 estimated deaths).
“Mali and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa have a high prevalence of malaria. Those of us working and living on the ground are best placed to understand the challenges of tackling this disease.”
As the head of the research laboratory at the University of Bamako Malaria Research Training Centre (MRTC), his lines of research include developing novel genetic approaches for malaria vector control including gene drive; developing novel approaches to measure the efficacy of transmission blocking vaccines in the field; and conducting operational research oriented toward vector control of diseases such as malaria and dengue to help making informed decisions by policymakers.
The Malaria Research and Training Center (MRTC) of the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Sciences, Techniques and Technologies of Bamako (USTTB), is one of the primary research resources in Africa for malaria epidemiology and control studies as well as vector ecology and genetics.
The MRTC has been Target Malaria’s partner in Mali since 2012. Target Malaria is an international not-for-profit research consortium with 14 institutions in Africa, Europe and North America. The project aims to fight malaria by developing novel genetic technologies to reduce the population of mosquitoes and thus reduce the rate of transmission of the disease.
Dr Coulibaly strongly believes that researchers who hail from and live and work in the communities affected by the disease are much more embedded in all the issues that a project, such as Target Malaria, must address. He constantly questions himself about the impact that the work he does as a scientists has on the lives of the local people.
Dr Coulibaly feels strongly about Target Malaria’s stakeholder engagement approach to address research in a collaborative way and a co-development, ensuring that the knowledge of local people is used to make key decisions.
People in Africa are aware of the ongoing battle that is being led against malaria everyday. Everybody must deal with catching the disease on a regular basis, dealing with the difficulty of making sure that everyone sleeps under a bed net to prevent mosquito bites at night and finding treatment for those who fall ill. Researchers and policymakers are concerned about the changing biting patterns of mosquitoes and their increasing resistance to insecticides.
“Worldwide there were 435,000 deaths last year from malaria. Over 90% were in Africa. This means that scientists need to redouble efforts to develop new, complementary measures to eliminate the disease.”
Dr Coulibaly is dedicated to ending malaria in Mali and on the African continent. The focus of Target Malaria’s research is to use gene drive technology to reduce the population of malaria mosquitoes. If the intervention works, it would help overcome human factors such as reluctance to use bed nets or to stay indoors after dark. It would also address any growing resistance to insecticides and repellents. Genetically modifying mosquitoes could also bypass social factors such as income, class, location or education that may make people more vulnerable to malaria.
In addition to the research aspects of the project in Mali, which encompass studying mosquitoes in the lab and in their natural environment; Dr Coulibaly also heads the engagement activities with stakeholders through the country. Target Malaria Mali works closely with communities. For example, local communities provided inputs into the risk assessment process for sterile male mosquitoes – the first phase of the research – by sharing what they can see as possible risks or possible consequences of the use of modified mosquitoes. Communities also share their knowledge and contribute to research through mosquito capture activities, dialogue and by simply allowing the project to carry out its work.
Dr Coulibaly is fully aware that genetic technologies can be difficult to understand and can cause concerns. As a scientist, he wants to understand all the implications of the technology. As a Malian, who lives in one of the countries where this could be used one day, he wants it to be safe for his family and himself, as they will hopefully be among those who will benefit from this new tool.
Dr Coulibaly is aware that it is an ambitious attempt but it is also possibly a defining contribution to solving one of the world’s biggest, deadliest and most persistent health challenges.
For more information:
- Interview of Dr Mamadou Coulibaly https://vimeo.com/352070666
- Op-ed in The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/as-a-malian-the-slogan-zero-malaria-starts-with-me-has-special-meaning-115798
- WHO Mali Malaria Country Profile: https://www.who.int/malaria/publications/country-profiles/profile_mli_en.pdf?ua=1
Target Malaria Mali https://targetmalaria.org/where-we-operate/