I got to know Rosalia through mutual connections on LinkedIn. I wanted the world to know about her work as an Entomologist, implementing the most effective interventions against Malaria transmission. Here is our interview about her STEM journey:
Hi Rosalia, you are welcome to this episode of Words That Count. We believe that every word you speak here adds value to the life of a young African girl who is passionate about STEM.
Hi Winnie, thank you for welcoming me. I am happy to be featured in your work. Thank you!
Briefly introduce yourself to the audience, please
My name is Rosalia Nghitalesheni Joseph from Namibia. I am a Researcher at the University of Namibia Multidisciplinary Research. In addition to this, I am embedded with the National Vector-borne Disease Control Programme (NVDCP) of the Ministry of Health and social services (MoHSS) of Namibia where I support the program as an Entomologist. I am also a member of the Biomedical Research Laboratory of UNAM where we solve local challenges like malaria, the locusts, COVID-19 as well as the validation and value addition of medicinal plants.
You are using terms I have never heard of in Biology, haha! Please give us some insight into what you do
I come from an environmental biology background where I learned how the weather and environmental conditions affect the spread of diseases like malaria because of how disease vectors flourish during rainy seasons. This and my love for medicinal research were the foundation that grew my interest in how these diseases affect human beings and how to prevent their transmission.
I was presented with a research fellowship by the partnership between the University of Namibia (UNAM) and the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) with the Ministry of Health and social services (MoHSS) of Namibia. During my fellowship, I was based at NVDCP which is tasked with the prevention and controlling of vector-borne diseases like malaria. Their field headquarters are in Oshakati because the north of Namibia is where almost all the malaria cases in Namibia originate from.
I worked in the field with a team from NVDCP, Oshakati hospital since 2018. We moved through the nine malaria-endemic regions collecting mosquito larvae and adult mosquitoes. I also worked in the insectary rearing mosquito eggs and larvae into adults, testing whether insecticides used were effective in killing mosquitoes, and also identifying the mosquito species by region using their physical features. I got to spend time at the Biomedical Research Laboratory at UNAM using molecular tools like PCR to further identify the mosquito species. This is important because mosquitoes have different behaviours in feeding and resting. Therefore, interventions have to be appropriate for mosquito types in each region.
I also had the opportunity to learn not only from NVDCP staff hands-on but also from training by experts from UCSF, University of Notre Dame and Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) in the United States, Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), as well Witswatersrand University – one of the best in Africa – and our very own Biomedical research laboratory on molecular biology.
Looking at your childhood, how did you join this world of Science?
I was born in the Ohangwena region, north of Namibia, which is one of the malaria-endemic regions. However, I was raised in Okahandja town, about 70 km from the capital city of Namibia. During my early childhood, I stayed with my mom and attended Nau-Aib Primary School and later attended J.G van der Wath Secondary School. After grade 12, I moved to the city to further my studies at the University of Namibia.
During my final year (2016) of studies at UNAM, I was a lab assistant at the Biological Sciences department. Later that year I was offered an internship at the National Botanical Research Institute under the SASSCAL program. A year later I moved to the City of Windhoek, Solid Waste Management (SWM) division as an SWM officer intern for a couple of months. My last internship at SWM was when I was offered the entomological fellowship and I didn’t think twice about accepting the opportunity.
What challenges have you faced along the way?
First and foremost was moving to a completely new town, thousands of kilometers away from home, it was a little hard to settle in, took me about a year, but I eventually found a home in it. Secondly, there were times when things were not working in my favour; I wasn’t just getting what I had anticipated. But in all honestly, I had the greatest support system, my mentor Prof. Davis Mumbengegwi, mom Ronia Shishiveni, colleagues at NVDCP, and family. I triumphed despite the challenges life threw at me.
What has inspired you to move forward amidst these challenges?
Bringing about change inspired me so much! I have never been part of such an important and life-saving initiative. As an Entomologist, I aim my research work at not only saving the average Namibian but contributing to saving Africans at large. The scarcity of women in STEM, especially entomology in Southern African, motivates me to shift the paradigm. I believe in inspiring a girl child will and helping them know that there are no boundaries to excellence.
Tell us about your achievements and awards
I make up a total of only three locally qualified experts; amongst them is the former health minister, Dr. Richard Nchabi Kamwi. This makes me the first female entomologist in Namibia. Additionally, my research findings were shared with the national level. After several discussions, Namibia implemented a change in policy on alternative insecticides for IRS in 2019. The country now uses alternative insecticides which are suitable for spraying on zinc, modern and traditional structures. I investigated the potential efficacy of a novel synergist that is incorporated in bed nets in 2020 and 2021. My investigation revealed a potential efficacy and benefit to using synergist incorporated bed nets to prevent malaria transmission in Namibia. The MoHSS is currently busy rolling out these bed nets to people at higher risk of malaria transmission.
What do you enjoy doing outside work?
I am an “omnivert”! There are times I prefer my bubbly side, but most times I keep to myself fixing things around the house. I also like reading with the likes of Johnny Drille, Calema, Halison Paixao, and Jazz in the background.
What’s your favourite quote?
When I first embarked on this journey, my mentor told me to always keep my eyes on the ball. This has kept me afloat till now. I believe that if you know your purpose and are determined to fulfill it you will, by all means, triumph.
How would you encourage a young girl in STEM?
You have got this, young queen, and remember that STEM is not a “boys-only” club; you are right where you belong. “Look down over what you have conquered and appreciate what God has brought you through. Remember that the challenges along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.” ~ Chadwick Boseman. Stay motivated and stay inspired
Thank you, Rosalia, for speaking to me. It has been such a wonderful learning process! I would never have imagined a career as an Entomologist. Thanks for inspiring yet another girl. I wish you more success in life.