Citizen science for malaria control in Rwanda: Engagement, motivation, and behaviour change

Domina Asingizwe

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Background: Malaria continues to be a major public health concern worldwide, with Sub-Saharan Africa carrying the largest global burden of malaria. Currently, the World Health Organization calls for malaria control interventions that leave no one behind with the aim to realize a malaria-free world. Consequently, engaging community members in malaria control interventions is crucial for malaria elimination in many countries including Rwanda. However, very little is known about how people can be engaged in malaria control, and how this engagement could, in turn, affect the consistent use of malaria control measures. Therefore, the overall objective of this thesis was to better understand the factors that influence the consistent use of malaria control measures, explore how citizens can be engaged through a citizen science program, and how this program could contribute to the use of malaria control measures.

Methods: A mixed-methods approach was used in four different phases to design, implement, and evaluate the citizen science program for malaria control. A citizen science program was co-designed to collect and report mosquitoes using a hand made trap, and report mosquito nuisance experienced as well as confirmed malaria cases using a paper-based form. The first phase involved the development and testing of an integrated model of determinants of malaria preventive behaviour. The second phase involved a co-designing process that was employed to engage citizens in malaria control through a citizen science program. In this co-designing phase, participatory design workshops were used to discuss on how community members can report observations such as mosquitoes species, mosquito nuisance experienced, and confirmed malaria cases in case they are asked to; whether they think is something feasible;  how frequently they can do it in case they accept to do it; how they think they can receive feedback; and what could be the content of that feedback. The third and fourth phases involved monitoring and evaluation of this citizen science program by exploring motivational factors and barriers to participate in the program.

Results: The model developed in the first phase proposes that the integration of factors at both individual and collective levels is required to address the malaria problem. By testing this integrated model, the results showed that individual perceptions as whole explain 50% of variance of behavioural intentions. The behavioural intentions were positively associated with the consistent use of LLINs, IRS, and draining of stagnant water.  The findings indicated three strategies that could be used to improve consistent use and acceptance of malaria control measures: (1) access to LLINs and regular spraying activities, (2) community mobilization and (3) citizen engagement in malaria prevention and control activities. The second phase elaborated on the co-design process that was employed to engage citizens in malaria control through a citizen science program. The results of the co-design process revealed that community members have their preferences and choices related to the tools (a hand made trap and paper based form) to collect citizen science data, as well as an organizational structure to report these data. These choices demonstrate that citizens have context-specific knowledge and skills. Consequently, involving them in the design of a program and considering their preferences facilitated the implementation of the program and retention of volunteers.

A third phase included monitoring of the citizen science program and indicated that volunteers joined and participated in the program because of different motivations including curiosity, a desire to learn new things, recognition, and a desire to contribute to malaria control. Barriers encountered include the pressure to report observations (mostly mosquito species) and a perceived low efficacy of the trap. The monitoring of this program helped to understand the key elements necessary to maintain the program and retain volunteers. The motivational factors and barriers reported in this study should be considered in citizen science projects to know how to approach community members at what stage of participation to recruit and retain volunteers. Although the retention of volunteers is important, an assessment should also be conducted to monitor and explore the impact of the program on community members.

In this thesis, phase four involved an evaluation to explore the benefits of the program to those who are directly involved in the collection and reporting of citizen science data and other community members who are not directly involved. The findings showed that the citizen science program has the potential to provide individual and collective benefits to volunteers and the community at large. Participation in citizen science raises awareness, increases knowledge and skills, improves perceptions, and expands social networks.

Conclusion: Overall, the results of this thesis clearly showed that the achievement of malaria control needs consideration of both individual and collective factors. To facilitate this, citizens need to be engaged in malaria control interventions. A high participation and retention rate observed throughout the project (one year), clearly demonstrated that the implementation of a citizen science program in areas with limited technology is feasible. However, the citizens’ preferences should be considered during the design process, and their motivations and barriers should be identified and addressed during the program to enhance the retention rate. The benefits of the program are not only limited to those who are directly involved in the program, but there is diffusion of information and benefits of the program to other community members. The citizen science data submitted by the volunteers provide localized information about mosquito density and its relationship with mosquito nuisance. This may, in turn, foster localized and targeted malaria control interventions. Therefore, we can conclude that this citizen science program can complement the existing active surveillance and may be considered by the National Malaria Control Program.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Leeuwis, Cees, Promotor
  • Poortvliet, Marijn, Co-promotor
  • Koenraadt, Sander, Co-promotor
  • Mutesa, L., Co-promotor, External person
Award date26 Aug 2020
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789463954525
Publication statusPublished - 26 Aug 2020


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