The VHEMBE Study

VHEMBE Logo and Health Workers in Mosquito Costumes

Each year, malaria infects approximately 219 million people, resulting nearly 660,000 deaths. Most often, these are children under 5 years of age living in Africa. According to the World Malaria Report, 42 countries spray insecticides, such as DDT and pyrethroids, on the inside walls of residences to repel and/or kill mosquitoes that spread malaria. This practice is known as indoor residual spraying (IRS). However, while IRS can help control malaria, pesticide exposure can also have adverse health effects.

The Venda Health Examination of Mothers, Babies and their Environment (VHEMBE) Study investigates the potential health effects resulting from insecticides used to control malaria carrying mosquitoes in the Vhembe District of Limpopo, South Africa. We seek to clarify the effects of DDT on the health of mothers and children in a highly-exposed population. Starting in 2012 we recruited pregnant women from the Venda tribe living in South Africa to learn more about women’s exposure to IRS insecticides and possible health effects to their children. Inspired by this work and a need for more accurate data, a phone application was developed and tested in what was called the mSpray Pilot Study.

 Man Spraying Pesticides Near Child's Bike and Health Advocates

Study at a Glance:

  • Study Objectives: To determine prenatal and childhood exposure to insecticides used for malaria control. To determine whether these exposures affect the health of pregnant women and children. To identify ways to reduce exposure to mothers and children including methods of minimizing exposure during IRS.
  • Geographic Area: Limpopo province, in the northeastern part South Africa
  • Participants: 750 pregnant women from the Venda tribe 
  • Study Tools: Blood samples 
  • Community Partners: University of California, Berkeley, the University of Pretoria, McGill University and a community advisory board
  • Principal Investigators:Dr. Jonathan Chevrier and Dr. Brenda Eskenazi
  • Funders: National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences
  • Contact: Dr. Jonathan Chevrier at