A day in Bobo-Dioulasso

Posted 18th October 2017

Most mosquito species have a flight range of 1-3 miles. In November 2016, a particular strain of anopheles mosquitoes flew from London, where they were born, to Italy, where they were further analysed, to finally reach a city in West Africa called Bobo-Dioulasso, a total distance of over 5000 miles, all of which was flown at egg stage for the mosquitoes. These mosquitoes represent the first major step for scientists at Imperial College of London, in their journey as part of a bigger team and effort, towards their end goal to reduce transmission of Malaria in endemic countries such as Burkina Faso.

This would become possible thanks to a technology that enables DNA modification of wild type mosquitoes. At this stage, these genetically modified mosquitoes are sterile males and won’t be able to generate progeny. This step, plays a crucial role in training and capacity building to pave the way for the implementation of future technologies. Since their arrival in Bobo these special mosquitoes have been taken care of by an incredible team who have the intention of making a big contribution to what we hope is going to be, in the years to come, a successful tool in the fight against malaria.

As an associate researcher in the lab of Prof. Crisanti at Imperial College London, I have been working in the context of vector control strategies as part of the Target Malaria team for almost 7 years. A few months ago, I was given the opportunity to leave my lab in London and share my expertise with the Burkinabe team.

I arrived on the 10th of August in Bobo-Dioulasso, the second biggest city in Burkina Faso. This time of the year weather is warm and rainy, perfect for t-shirts and shorts, if only there weren’t mosquitoes. My average day starts at 7am when I wake up and get ready to be picked up by Charles, Target Malaria’s project manager in Bobo and my support for the mission. We make our way to the Institut de Recherche en Sciences de la Santé (IRSS) where the Target Malaria facilities are based. It feels unreal using finger print technology to enter the place allocated in such a bucolic scenario; behind two doors designed for arthropod security containment of level 2, first a molecular lab, then the insectary. I spend my days in the molecular lab with Dao, a lab technician, using a technique called PCR to establish the abundance of mosquito species in villages nearby Bobo.

This work is part of the ongoing activities set by the Target Malaria team in order to maximise the knowledge of local mosquitoes’ distribution and behaviours in those areas. While I am helping Dao with molecular biology, digital storage and data analysis, he is teaching me the value of patience, tidiness and balafon dance. Around 4pm a driver will be waiting for me at the entrance of IRSS with his tiny green car playing reggae music. Once at home I will eat a fruit and get ready to spend a couple of hours in the gym. The biggest difference jumping from a London lifestyle to the Burkinabe one is the pace of life; for example, in Bobo you will have time to read and write even if you don’t schedule it. Most importantly, you will find time to think about your life without being distracted by its messiness. This is what I do before falling asleep around 23.30.

Thanks guys for having me,