The Brain Gain in Guatemala

ZAP Increases Country Capacity, Incomes & Opportunities

With money earned from her work with ZAP, Jeraldy Ramirez was able to buy a motorbike, reducing her time and cost of commuting to work. Photo: Laura McCarty/Abt Associates

It wasn’t long ago that Jeraldy Ramirez Herrera didn’t know much about biology, much less mosquito-borne diseases. In fact, 21-year-old Ramirez said that before working for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Zika AIRS Project (ZAP), she knew nothing about mosquitoes. Now as an entomological lab technician for ZAP in Guatemala’s Zacapa Department, Ramirez regularly dissects female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the species that can transmit the Zika virus, dengue and chikungunya, to determine the approximate the age of the mosquito. Knowing the age of the mosquito enables entomologists to evaluate the efficacy of mosquito control interventions, such as larviciding, which targets mosquito larvae in breeding sites before they can mature into adult biting mosquitoes.

USAID launched ZAP in 2017 in response to the Zika epidemic that was spreading across Latin America and the Caribbean and causing severe illness and birth defects. ZAP assists countries in the region to prevent, detect, and respond to mosquito-borne diseases, such as Zika. ZAP has provided the equipment, knowledge and resources needed to study mosquito behavior, density, and lifespan, so that country governments can make evidence-based decisions on how to fight disease. ZAP also supports governments to strengthen insecticide resistance management policies and establish comprehensive data on Aedes vectors, the mosquitoes that transmit Zika.

ZAP trains entomologists and lab technicians in mosquito control techniques, including how to collect, preserve, and manage mosquito colonies; insecticide resistance monitoring using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization protocols; insectary management best practices, analysis and interpretation of entomological data, and dissecting methods. Trained entomologists are critical to ensuring the necessary research is conducted and applied to crucial decision making in the deployment of mosquito control interventions.

“Working with my team and coming to the lab in the morning makes me so happy,” said Ramirez. “I always give my best. Now I feel more capable and confident to apply for a job after the project ends.”

The benefits go beyond job skills for Ramirez as the income she earns now enables her to buy food for her family and she is saving money so she can go back to school.

“I even bought a motorcycle. Before I had to take a tuk tuk to work. I live far away so it took a long time and cost money. Thanks to ZAP, I don’t stress anymore about my life.”