Malaria is still the world's most important parasitic disease with more than 90% of
all cases in sub-Saharan Africa, and controls are becoming increasingly difficult
with changes in land use and drug resistance. This delightful and very readable
autobiography by a medical entomologist. Dr Mick Gillies, completed before his sudden
death in December 1999, is very relevant, as it describes much-needed research into the
biology of malaria-carrying mosquitoes in many African countries. Dr Gillies is an
acknowledged authority, having published over sixty papers on mosquitoes, rewarded by
the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene with medals in 1965 and 1982.
A dedicated naturalist. Gillies was drawn into entomology by his interest in mayflies
(Ephemeroptera) living in streams throughout most of the world. He first qualified as a
medical doctor, which led to army service in India, South East Asia Command,
peacetime Malaya, Hong Kong, then a spell in Russia, before changing course in 1951.
On becoming a medical entomologist he joined the newly-formed Colonial Research
Service and was posted to the East African Mosquito Research Unit based at Amani in
Tanganyika, established under the East Africa High Commission which pooled research
services in Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda. The photographs illustrate some of the
ingenious mosquito traps used. Here he was involved in a large scale experiment in the
Pare-Taveta region to test the effects of mass house spraying on the health of the people
and its effects on the survival of the mosquitoes. He also travelled in Somaliland where
malaria endemics had broken out among local people in 1952, and to Aden in 1957.
On the advent of Tanganyika's independence in 1961, Gillies spent two years at the
British Museum (Natural History) in London co-writing the second edition of The
Anophilinae of Africa South of the Sahara. At this time he was also involved in
establishing a Mosquito Behaviour Unit at Sussex University, funded by the Medical
Research Council in 1968, which carried out field experiments in The Gambia from the
MRC's station at Fajara. He was in The Gambia at the time of the 1981 coup d'etat.
In 1971 Gillies explored the possible spread of malaria north along the Nile into
Egypt, possibly exacerbated by the creation of Lake Nasser. The effects of such manmade
changes to habitats on the biology of the mosquitoes need more research; together
with increasing resistance to anti-malarial drugs, they often impose Increased threats
from malaria. According to the most recent WHO Fact Sheet, the direct and indirect
costs of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa exceed 2 billion dollars; more than a dozen candidate
vaccines are now in development, with the hope that an effective vaccine will be
available within the next 7-15 years. But, as Gillies' book shows, research into the
behaviour of the mosquitoes springs many surprises.
This book is a great read, revealing a very observant traveller with a refreshingly dry
humour. Gillies kept his lifelong passion for unravelling the life histories of mayflies,
fragile insects with aquatic immature stages and ephemeral adults, which he studied
when and whenever he had the opportunity to delight in them on his adventurous travels
to many parts of the world.