The World Health Organisation is testing a radiation-based birth control method for mosquitoes, known as Sterile Insect Technique, to control dengue fever, Zika and chikungunya diseases.
Diseases transmitted by mosquitoes such as malaria, dengue, Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever account for about 17 per cent of all infectious diseases globally, claiming more than 700,000 lives each year.
Even though there have been no Zika cases in Uganda—where Zika forest is located—the country suffers a heavy burden of malaria, which is spread by anopheles species of mosquito.
In a news release on November 14, the WHO said that the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) involves rearing large quantities of sterilised male mosquitoes of the aedes species in special facilities, and then releasing them to mate with females in the wild.
As the sterilised males do not produce any offspring, the mosquito population declines over time, the WHO statement explains.
Because the technique uses radiation, organisations that approve scientific innovations meant for public use—Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and the WHO—to develop guidelines for countries interested in testing the SIT.
“Half the world’s population is now at risk of dengue,” said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO chief scientist.
“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 guidelines on using the technique to control diseases in humans recommends adopting a phased approach that allows time to test the efficacy of the sterilised insects.
The SIT was first developed by the US Department of Agriculture and has been used successfully to target insect pests that attack crops and livestock, such as the Mediterranean fruit fly and the New World screw worm fly. It is currently in use globally in the agriculture sector.