USF COPH undergrad Endora Ankrah’s firsthand experience with malaria

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World Malaria Day is April 25.

She was in the third grade when it hit her the hardest. She missed a month of school while hospitalized in a battle to overcome malaria.

USF College of Public Health’s (COPH) Endora Ankrah, a second-year health sciences major, has had multiple firsthand encounters with malaria while growing up in Accra, Ghana.

USF College of Public Health health sciences student Endora Ankrah. (Photo courtesy of Ankrah)

Until the age of 13 when she moved to Florida, she said that getting malaria was commonplace and that everyone’s battle was different.

“I know how bad malaria can be, especially for pregnant women and children,” she said. “Their immune systems are not that strong and the medications to fight the disease are powerful; it can really knock you out.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes.

The disease was responsible for at least 409,000 deaths in 2019, with children under the age of 5 accounting for 67 percent of all malaria deaths worldwide. Ninety-four percent of malaria cases in 2019 occurred in the WHO’s African region.

Ankrah recalled seeing how many would end up self-diagnosing themselves based on their symptoms due to their inability to access proper medical care.

“[In Ghana] if you do not have money, you can’t go to the doctor,” she said. “I think that’s also one of the reasons why people who have malaria can have it so bad, especially those of lower income.”

These disparities would often cause those infected to turn to herbal medications.

“There is a lot of unorthodox medication,” she said. “These are not regulated as much but are powerful as well, and you really don’t know what you’re putting into your body.”

Looking for ways to help

As a second-year health sciences major at USF, Ankrah decided to find ways to get more involved in research efforts. She was delighted to find that the USF COPH has labs dedicated to malaria research.

“Because I’ve had experience with malaria firsthand, I wanted to find a way to help out,” Ankrah said.

She decided to reach out to Dr. John Adams, Distinguished University Professor and co-director of the the USF Center for Global Health and Infectious Diseases Research center, for opportunities to get involved in the research occurring in his labs.   

Since March 2021, she has been interning in the insectary lab where she takes care of the mosquitoes to ensure their overall health.

“Mosquitoes get a bad reputation for malaria, but they are just the vectors,” Ankrah said. “I’m in charge of feeding the mosquitoes, taking the pupae, making sure that we have healthy mosquitoes at the end of the day. These mosquitoes are what they are going to use for experiments later. So, healthier mosquitoes mean better lab results.”

Anopheles mosquito. (Photo source: Wikimedia)

She said that working in the lab has given her the opportunity to practice her passion for public health research and to see innovative thinking in action.

“There is a lot of opportunity to grow in the lab. I have not been there for a long time, but I have learned a lot so far. It is really encouraging to see people being so passionate about their work and being willing to teach. I really love that about this lab, and my experience here has made me consider doing research,” she said.

Looking forward

Upon graduating she hopes to pursue her dreams of becoming a physician.

“World Malaria Day is a reminder of the efforts that are being put forth globally to control malaria. It gives us an opportunity celebrate the wins so far.”

Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health