How training of an entomologist can save lives, Nepal

Monday, 14 May, 2018

Dharan village in Nepal (credit BPKIHS)

It takes an expert to decide on the best strategy to fight sand flies. These little insects might seem harmless, but they are responsible for transmitting visceral leishmaniasis (VL), a disease which is lethal if not treated timely. They hide in the cracks of mud houses, affecting mainly the poorest of the poor of society. Like other insects, sand flies need to cope with a constantly changing reality; they adapt to climate change, while finding ways to survive insecticides. In short, it takes an expert to find the best strategy to fight this tiny enemy and to keep on continuously adapting this strategy.

With the only entomologist in the country about to leave his post, Nepal saw its last expert on this topic disappear. In the middle of an international effort to eliminate visceral leishmaniasis, this formed a critical obstacle towards success of the elimination programme. As part of KalaCORE’s focus for Nepal, supported by Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM), the programme has been training one candidate entomologist ensuring the continuation of entomological expertise in the country’s battle against visceral leishmaniasis.

Mrs. Lalita Roy was chosen as the best candidate for this position. Born in the middle of the VL-endemic region of Nepal, and working with sand flies and control methods for more than ten years, she is fascinated by the role of the sand flies in transmitting this disease and keen to address the many mysteries still surrounding these insects. For almost a full year now she has been going back and forth between field and laboratory to study sand flies and find out why they spread disease in some of the villages and not in other. Supervision by both internal and external experienced entomologists allows her to perfect her knowledge both on sand flies and on research skills, in order to become a fully competent medical entomologist at the B.P Koirala Institute of Health Sciences,Dharan, which serves as the center of excellence for VL in Nepal and the main technical reference for the national programme. From there she will be able to help eliminate this disease by advising policy makers on how best to fight this tiny enemy.