A University of Arizona professor has received a $376,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to research ways to control the spread of malaria in Kenya.

Kacey Ernst, an assistant professor of epidemiology in the UA's Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, has received more than $3 million in grant money in 2012 from the NIH for her research related to the prevention of dengue and malaria.

Her latest research, a three-year study focusing on one highland province and one lowland province in Kenya, will examine the reasons residents choose to use or not to use bed nets sprayed with insecticide, a common malaria-prevention strategy.

"The square bed nets they feel are similar to sleeping in a grave, the white color is also sort of a symbol of a tomb ...so they prefer colors," Ernst said. "Also some people just think they're ugly; they don't like hanging them; they're a pain."

The second part of the study will evaluate the success of an alternative net-distribution method.

Worldwide, about 86 percent of malaria deaths occur in children under 5 years old.

"It's not just preventable, but it's also treatable," Ernst said. She is also leading two studies focusing on dengue prevention in the southwest and in Florida. Her research team includes Michael Riehle, Kathleen Walker, and UA provost Andrew Comrie.

Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at vcruz@azstarnet.com or 573-4224.