How a Modest Investment is Supporting Homegrown Science in Benin and Beyond

This content is a spotlight of the African Researchers' Small Grants Program. It was originally published on USAID's Medium blog.

When Pelagie Boko-Collins first began working as an entomologist — a scientist who studies insects — future careers in her home country of Benin seemed limited.

In Benin, I’d say 95 percent of our entomology research is focused on malaria vector control,” she said. “This field can’t just be malaria, malaria, and more malaria. Mosquitoes — they transmit so many other diseases.”

In 2012 — after working for eight years on malaria vector control with Benin’s Ministry of Health — she heard a lecture from Professor David Molyneux of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, the scientist credited with coining the term “neglected tropical diseases.”

His drive to bring attention to lesser-known afflictions inspired her to do the same. She began master’s studies at Liverpool the following year and shifted her focus towards neglected tropical diseases, or NTDs.

Specifically, she wanted to address the issue of lymphatic filariasis, a disease transmitted by mosquitoes that can cause severe disability and debilitating swelling. At that time, nearly 4 million people were at risk of contracting lymphatic filariasis in Benin — with many unaware of the disease and how to prevent it.

Pelagie Boko-Collins
Pelagie Boko-Collins presenting research findings at a scientific conference. / Liz Eddy, USAID
Pelagie Boko-Collins 
Photo courtesy of Pelagie Boko-Collins
 
The program has also furthered Pelagie’s career, helping her to secure her current role with Sightsavers as Neglected Tropical Disease Program Manager for Benin and Togo. Many of her colleagues have now been inspired to apply to the African Researchers’ Small Grants Program, as well.