Dr. Jonathan Kayondo is the Principal Investigator (PI) for Target Malaria in Uganda. He is also the Senior Research Officer for the Department of Entomology, and the current acting Head of Department of Entomology at the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI).
Dr. Kayondo’s academic background focused on Biochemistry, Chemistry and Molecular Genetics. He holds a B.Sc. from Makerere University, Uganda and a Ph.D. in Vector Biology & Genomics from the University of Notre Dame, USA. His research encompasses investigations on disease vectors and pathogens with a focus on the genetics of malaria transmitting mosquitoes and viruses. With a specialization in vector biology and molecular genetics, Dr. Kayondo focuses his research on the main malaria transmitting mosquito in Uganda, the Anopheles gambiae species complex, Arbo-viral vectors, and HIV.
“Vector-borne diseases, among these malaria and arbo-viral infections, remain great public health concerns in Uganda.”
Dr. Kayondo joined UVRI in 1996 and now guides their entomology’s scientific direction, aimed at better understanding the local mosquito populations in order to inform current vector control strategies, and the development of alternative approaches to complement existing interventions. UVRI is a government-funded public health research institution. It undertakes scientific investigations into communicable diseases and serves as a center for training and education in related disciplines. In addition to health-related research, the institute is also involved in regulation and policy development.
As lead scientist, Dr. Kayondo works to position UVRI as a center of knowledge and excellence for cutting-edge science in Uganda. His work entails planning, organizing, coordinating research activities and building research facilities and teams able to contribute to new innovations. He leads both the laboratory and field study teams; overlooks infrastructure upgrades; secures research funding; and supports staff training and mentorship.
In 2016, Dr. Kayondo joined Target Malaria as the Principal Investigator in Uganda and the UVRI team is one of the 14 other institutions worldwide that is working in partnership with Target Malaria, contributing through its expertise to develop genetic approaches to affect the reproduction of these mosquitoes.
As an Ugandan national, Dr. Kayondo understands the impact a vector-borne disease can have. In 2018, the WHO reported over 13 million confirmed malaria cases in Uganda, and an additional 8.6 million suspected cases, ranking 5th amongst countries in the world with the highest malaria prevalence.
“By reducing the population of malaria mosquitoes, we can in turn work to to reduce the transmission of the disease. ”
Dr. Kayondo understands the concerns of local communities regarding their work. Engaging local communities is key to Target Malaria’s success. The UVRI team includes stakeholder engagement and communication experts to work closely with communities so they are well informed about the project objectives and activities. Feedback and local knowledge is collected regularly to contribute to the co-development process of the approach.
Dr Kayondo overlooked the design, construction and launch of the new Arthropod Containment Level 2 (ACL-2) insectary at the UVRI campus, Entebbe. It was inaugurated in July 2019 and is the first of its kind in the country.
“The facility will go a long way in enabling research on genetically modified mosquitoes at internationally recommended containment levels.”
Dr Kayondo is committeed to seeking collaborative efforts to increase the span of his work. He believes that strengthening laboratory systems will enable Uganda to remain prepared to fight against the disease, and other vector-borne illnesses.
In addition to his work with Target Malaria, Dr. Kayondo works to increase capacity building networks at UVRI to various extents including three key initiatives:
- H3ABioNet, a consortium for bioinformatics infrastructure and expertise development on the African continent;
- THRiVE and MUII, both of which are consortiums for health research capacity building in the region and Uganda.
“It’s important to involve the scientists of the countries where malaria is endemic, because that’s where the solutions are being targeted.”
As a leader, Dr. Kayondo understands the importance for his team to feel ownership of their contributions to the fight against malaria. In turn, this will make implementing the technology easier in the future, for the country will have been active through the development process. Dr. Kayondo believes that to have the best chance of success with this emerging technology, the African continent must co-develop and harness it at the same time as their international partners.
For his work with Target Malaria, the greatest challenge will be managing stakeholder engagement. The current available tools to combat malaria alone are not enough to eliminate malaria in Africa. There is an urgent need for new technologies, so it is essential for Dr. Kayondo and his team to engage thoroughly with local communities, to ensure information is easily accessible to them, and also manage their expectations for when the technology is ready and can be implemented. It is a step-by-step process that will take time.
“This is a complex and new possible solution to an age-old problem, and there are many and varied developments and risks to overcome before it can be considered for deployment.”
Together, Dr. Kayondo and his team at UVRI and Target Malaria are paving the way for a malaria free world.
For more information:
- Malaria must die profile: Interview with Dr. Jonathan Kayondo and his team in Uganda : https://www.malariamustdie.com/researchers-combat-mosquitoes
- Video interview with Dr. Jonathan Kayondo: https://vimeo.com/352071688
- List of Scientific contributions: https://www.researchgate.net/scientific-contributions/34489751_Jonathan_K_Kayondo
- Kayondo, J., 2018. Why Africa Must Take The Lead In Advancing Malaria Innovation. The Telegraph. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/africa-must-not-wait-advances-malaria-innovation-must-pioneer/