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    Personalities of the Month

    Personalities of the Month

    Personalities of the Month: Khairunnisa Syaripuddin, Malaysia.

    Hi, my name is Khairunnisa Syaripuddin, and I am originally from Sarawak, Malaysia. I graduated with my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Ecology and Biodiversity from University of Malaya, where I specialised in zoology. My educational background provided me with a strong foundation in biology and ecology, which I have applied to my work. Currently, I am working as a public health entomologist for the Ministry of Health, Malaysia, where I am involved in various projects focused on improving vector control strategies and reducing the burden of vector-borne diseases. I am committed to contributing to the field through research, education, and collaboration with stakeholders in Malaysia and worldwide.

    I started working as a public health entomologist in mid-2019, and I have been stationed in the rural part of Sarawak, i.e., Kapit district, where malaria Plasmodium knowlesi is the most prevalent and where the highest imported human malaria cases are recorded every year. Malaysia is in the phase of prevention of the reintroduction (POR) of malaria, hence Kapit is on high alert for any risk of local transmission. My role at district level is mainly to conduct entomological research on vector-borne diseases (dengue fever, malaria, Japanese encephalitis, and lymphatic filariasis), which includes investigating the receptivity level of localities with new vector-borne disease cases and deaths recorded, assessing the entomological risk of malaria and dengue in suspected localities, monitoring the resistance status of vector towards insecticides, and conducting bioassays on insecticides. Apart from that, I also investigate leptospirosis cluster cases and pest infestations in health facilities and other premises. I also act as a consultant for vector control activities in the department.

    When I was doing my BSc degree, I was so interested in entomology and took several classes but unrelated to public health importance. However, I never dreamed of becoming a public health entomologist because sadly, I was not aware of its existence and importance since it was also not a well-known career, and there was not so much done to promote this type of career even at my alma mater. When I was invited for an interview by the government, I only had the chance to dig much into this post and somehow picked up my interest and determination to really secure the job. I realised vector-borne diseases, such as malaria, dengue fever, and Zika virus, continue to pose a significant threat to populations around the world, including Malaysia. Public health entomologists are as important as other healthcare workers, as we work in vector surveillance to develop and implement strategies for controlling these vectors and preventing the spread of disease, hence reducing the burden of health clinics and admission in hospitals.

    There are insects we could love, and there are also insects we should hate. Some insects, such as mosquitoes, ticks, and sandflies, could transmit diseases. So, to fight them, we should learn their biology and bionomics in depth. Vector biology is interesting to me as it involves studying disease-transmitting insects. Understanding the ecology of these vectors is essential for developing effective control strategies.

    Moreover, I was drawn to the interdisciplinary nature of public health entomology. This field combines elements of biology, ecology, epidemiology, and public health to address complex health challenges. It requires collaboration across disciplines and with stakeholders at all health system levels.

    Overall, a career in public health entomology offers the opportunity to make a meaningful impact on global health.

    As a public health entomologist, I have had the opportunity to pursue both educational and professional training, as well as career development. One available educational opportunity we have is to pursue an advanced Diploma in Applied Parasitology and Entomology which is offered every year from a renowned biomedical research institution in Malaysia. This program provided a strong foundation in the field, including courses in basic and advance Parasitology and Entomology, as well as skills in conducting research, diagnostic services and approaches in control programmes. I would definitely grab this opportunity and apply in this program to improve myself in the future.

    In terms of professional training, I have participated in the 9th International Integrated Vector Management Course, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2019 and the 4th Malaria Vector Surveillance for Elimination Course, Salatiga, Indonesia in 2023 apart from several other small workshops and international conferences focused on vector control and disease surveillance. These events have allowed me to learn about new technologies and techniques for managing vector-borne diseases, as well as network with other professionals in the field around Malaysia and also from other countries.

    Currently, I am pursuing career development opportunities by working in collaboration with a local university on research projects focused on understanding the genetic diversity and bionomics of zoonotic malaria vectors in Kapit, Sarawak to improve the surveillance systems. It is still a challenge to control P. knowlesi malaria transmission in Kapit as it occurs outdoor, and the parasite has monkeys as its reservoir. The concern with this zoonotic malaria arises because late treatment would lead to fatality. Overall, I am grateful that these opportunities have provided me with a stronger foundation in public health entomology and hopefully would allow me to contribute to the field in meaningful ways.

    There is a common perception that there is a lack of career incentive for this field, particularly in the Asia Pacific region. Many would agree that there is limited funding and resources allocated to vector control programs in many countries in the region, including Malaysia which solely depend on the budget allocation from the government. This can result in a lack of job opportunities and low salaries and allowances for professionals working in this field. We work day and night in both fields and labs with limited manpower and tools, dealing with the most dangerous animal: mosquitoes, hence should be remunerated fairly. Additionally, there is often a lack of recognition and prestige associated with careers in vector control compared to other areas of public health.

    Another reason could be the limited research opportunities and lack of investment in research and development in this field. This can make it challenging for young professionals to advance their careers through research and innovation, as they may not have access to the resources and support, they need to make significant contributions to the field.

    However, it’s also important to note that there are many successful examples of vector control programs in the region that have led to significant reductions in the burden of vector-borne diseases. These successes demonstrate the importance and impact of this field, and highlight the potential for career growth and advancement for professionals working in vector control.

    To address the perceived lack of career incentive, several steps can be taken. Firstly, governments and international organisations can increase funding and resources for vector control programs, which will create more job opportunities and improve salaries for professionals working in this field. Secondly, there can be greater recognition and prestige associated with careers in vector control, which will attract more talented individuals to this area. Thirdly, there can be greater investment in research and development in this field, which will provide more opportunities for young professionals to advance their careers through research and innovation. By taking these steps, we can ensure that this crucial field continues attracting talented individuals committed to improving public health.

    Certainly, I would like to highlight the importance of contributing to the field of public health entomology and how it can lead to positive changes in society. As a public health entomologist, I am committed to making a difference in the communities where I work and contributing to the global effort to control and eliminate vector-borne diseases. By conducting research on disease-transmitting insects, developing innovative control strategies, and working with local communities, we can make a significant impact on public health outcomes. For example, through my work in my District Health Office, I have been involved in several projects focused on improving vector control strategies for dengue fever. These projects have led to the implementation of community-based interventions that have resulted in significant reductions in dengue fever incidence. By sharing our knowledge and expertise with local communities and working collaboratively with stakeholders, we can ensure that our interventions are culturally appropriate, sustainable, and effective. Moreover, by investing in research and development in this field, we can contribute to global efforts to address some of the most pressing public health challenges facing our world today. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) has set a goal to eliminate malaria in at least 30 countries by 2030, which will require significant investments in research and development to develop new tools and technologies for controlling mosquito populations and preventing malaria transmission. By contributing to these efforts, we can help to achieve this goal and improve public health outcomes for people around the world. In summary, by contributing to the field of public health entomology/vector biology/vector control through research, innovation, and collaboration with stakeholders, we can make a positive difference in society and contribute to changing tomorrow’s public health landscape for the better.

    Khairunnisa Syaripuddin, Public Health Entomologist at the Ministry of Health, Malaysia
    Khairunnisa Syaripuddin, Public Health Entomologist at the Ministry of Health, Malaysia