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Mosquito sterilisation to curb disease?

Mosquitoes. Vector-borne diseases concept.A number of agencies are investigating mosquito-sterilisation as a technique to curb the spread of vector-borne diseases. 

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations’s Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR), and the World Health Organization (WHO) are partnering to explore the sterile insect technique. TDR scientist Florence Fouque has said the practice “could be really, really significant” in the fight against diseases such as chikungunya, dengue fever, and the Zika virus. 

“Half the world’s population is now at risk of dengue,” said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO Chief Scientist and Deputy Director-General. “And despite our best efforts, current efforts to control it are falling short. We desperately need new approaches and this initiative is both promising and exciting.” 

The deployment of the sterile insect technique in the fight against vector-borne disease will see radiation used to sterilise male mosquitoes, who are then released into the wild in order to effect reductions in breeding. The sterile insect technique has historically used as a form of pest control to prevent the destruction of crops. 

“Countries seriously affected by dengue and Zika have shown real interest in testing this technology as it can help suppress mosquitoes that are developing resistance to insecticides, which are also negatively impacting the environment,” added Fouque. A phased approach will be undertaken to gauge the effectiveness of the mosquito sterilisation approach, with pilot countries to be identified early next year. 

India has witnessed in excess of 67,000 cases of dengue fever this year alone, whilst grappling with a considerable burden of other mosquito-transmitted diseases such as chikungunya and outbreaks of emerging diseases such as Zika. As such, the investigation of techniques to address them are welcome in combating a seemingly ubiquitous public health scourge. 

“The use of the sterile insect technique in the agriculture sector in the past sixty years has shown that it is a safe and effective method,” said medical entomologist Jérémy Bouyer of the Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture at the FAO and the IAEA. “We are excited to collaborate with TDR and WHO to bring this technology to the health sector to fight human diseases.”

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