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Djibouti releases genetically modified mosquitoes to boost anti-malaria efforts

Djibouti releases genetically modified mosquitoes to boost anti-malaria efforts

Image credit, Oxitec company

Comment on the photo, Scientists say that mosquitoes are not toxic and do not cause allergies to humans.

  • author, Dorcas Wangera
  • Role, Africa health correspondent, BBC News

Tens of thousands of genetically modified mosquitoes have been released into Djibouti to try to stop the spread of the invasive species that transmits malaria.

The friendly, non-biting male Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes, developed by Oxitec, a UK-based biotechnology company, carry a gene that kills females before they reach maturity.

Only females bite and transmit malaria and other viral diseases.

This is the first time such mosquitoes have been released in East Africa and the second time on the continent.

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A similar technique has been used successfully in Brazil, the Cayman Islands, Panama and India, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

More than a billion of these mosquitoes have been released worldwide since 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The first batch of mosquitoes was released outdoors on Thursday in Ambouli, a suburb of Djibouti City.

This is a pilot phase as part of a partnership between Oxitec Ltd, the Government of Djibouti and Association Mutualis, a non-governmental organisation.

Gray Frandsen, director of Oxitec, told the BBC: “We have designed good mosquitoes that do not bite and do not transmit disease. When we release them, they seek to mate with wild female mosquitoes.”

Only their male descendants survive and they eventually become extinct, according to the scientists behind the project.

Unlike the sterile male Anopheles colossi mosquitoes released into Burkina Faso in 2018, the friendly stephensi mosquitoes are still capable of producing offspring.

The release is part of Djibouti's Mosquito Friendly Programme, launched two years ago to stop the spread of Anopheles stevensi, an invasive species of mosquito that was first discovered in the country in 2012.

The country was then on the verge of eliminating malaria, as it recorded nearly 30 cases of malaria. Since then, malaria cases have increased dramatically in the country, reaching 73,000 cases by 2020.

This species is now found in six other African countries: Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, Nigeria and Ghana.

The stephensi species, native to Asia, is very difficult to control. It is also considered an urban mosquito that has overcome traditional methods of control. It bites day and night and is resistant to chemical insecticides.

Dr. Abdelilah Ahmed Abdi, Djibouti's presidential health adviser, told the Financial Times news site that the government's goal is to “urgently stop malaria transmission in Djibouti, which has intensified over the past decade.”

“Not long ago, malaria was extremely rare in our communities,” said Dr. Buah Abdi Khaireh, Director of Mutualis Association.

“Today, we see malaria patients suffering daily across Djibouti. There is an urgent need for new interventions.”

“The paludisme is a grave that affected our country. People attending to comment on the most important microphones we used to enter the combat”, he declared to the BBC Saada Ismael, a survivor of the paludisme that was participé in the preparation for this. the society.

Image credit, Oxitec company

Comment on the photo, Malaria kills more than 500,000 people in Africa every year.

GMOs have always been a controversial topic in Africa. Environmental groups and activists have warned of the consequences for existing ecosystems and food chains.

But Oxitec's Frandsen says no negative effects on the environment or human health have been observed in more than a decade, during which the biological solutions developer released a billion modified mosquitoes.

He added: “Our goal is to ensure that everything we release into the environment is safe and highly effective. There is no impact on the environment. It is non-toxic, non-allergenic and intended for specific species.”

GM genes are not found in mosquito saliva, and according to Oxitec, even a person bitten by a mosquito will not be exposed to the effects of the genes.

“This new solution may be controversial, but it represents the future,” said Dr. Abdi, presidential health advisor.

If successful, larger field trials and potential practical deployment of the mosquito will continue into next year in the country.

Malaria is a deadly disease that kills at least 600,000 people worldwide every year. According to the World Health Organization, nine out of ten deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

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