Expanding the Role of Women in Vector Control: Case Studies From Madagascar, Rwanda, and Zambia

Glob Health Sci Pract. 2023 Jun 21;11(3):e2200508. doi: 10.9745/GHSP-D-22-00508. Print 2023 Jun 21.


Background: Historically, vector control, including entomological monitoring, has been a field dominated by men. Each year, the U.S. President's Malaria Initiative (PMI) VectorLink project hires 50,000 to 70,000 seasonal workers across the countries in which it works to implement vector control activities, creating an economic opportunity for both men and women. Remaining barriers to women's employment in vector control include social and cultural norms regarding acceptability of formal employment for women, perceptions that women are not fit to serve as spray operators, and a historical context of male-dominated fields such as entomology.

Methods: We use PMI VectorLink project data from Madagascar, Rwanda, and Zambia for 2019-2021 and key informant interviews with project staff in these countries to examine levels of female employment, effectiveness and efficiency of female versus male malaria spray operators, and strategies to expand the role of women in vector control.

Results: The percentage of female seasonal employees ranges from 25% in Madagascar to 32% in Rwanda and 45% in Zambia. The percentage of women in leadership positions ranges from 32% in Madagascar and Rwanda to 38% in Zambia. Men and women are equally effective and efficient as spray operators. Best practices for recruiting and retaining women in vector control include engaging community leaders in recruitment, implementing affirmative action hiring policies, mentoring women to progress to leadership positions, and ensuring equitable, safe, and attractive workplaces.

Discussion: As vector control programs transition away from donor funding and are increasingly government led, sustaining gains in female empowerment is critical. Country programs should work closely with national, regional, district, and local leaders to demonstrate the importance of hiring women in vector control-including leadership positions-and the impact on female economic empowerment, community well-being, and success of vector control programs.

MeSH terms

  • Employment*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Madagascar
  • Malaria* / prevention & control
  • Male
  • Rwanda
  • Zambia