Genetically modified mosquitoes to curb malaria

What you need to know:

  •  Dr Jonathan Kayondo, the project lead coordinator at the UVRI, said when the modified male mosquito mates with common mosquitoes, the female off springs are infertile.

Scientists at Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) have started breeding mosquitoes with the aim of modifying their genetic materials and releasing them to the environment to curb malaria transmission.

The genetically modified mosquitoes, according to the scientists, do not transmit malaria parasites when they bite.

 Dr Jonathan Kayondo, the project lead coordinator at the UVRI, said when the modified male mosquito mates with common mosquitoes, the female off springs are infertile.
This, he explained will significantly suppress the population or eliminate mosquitoes thereby stopping malaria transmission and deaths.

“We have malaria control measures such as insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor residual spraying and drugs for the treatment of malaria which have helped a lot, but malaria is still here with us. We need to get additional tools to help us eradicate the disease,” Dr Kayondo said yesterday at the UVRI headquarters in Entebbe.

“Target malaria project has a novel approach that targets malaria-transmitting mosquitoes. It targets their reproduction so that they become less and stop transmitting the disease. ,” he added.

Malaria kills an estimate of 17,000 Ugandans each year, according to the 2019 report from the World Health Organisation.
The Health ministry’s statistics also show that around 50 per cent of hospital out-patient visits are due to malaria and of this, around 20 per cent get admitted.

Dr Kayondo said:  “The technology is cost-effective compared to the current methods such as providing insecticide-treated mosquito nets. Investment is needed when developing it but then it is self-sustaining once you develop,” he said.

Project establishment
The work on the project started last year and it is going on in four other countries such Burkina Faso, Mali and Ghana and the first experimental release will be around 2027 followed by a major release in 2029, according to Dr Kayondo.

Up to $1 million (about Shs3.6 billion) is being injected in the study each year for five years and the biggest funder is Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, according to Dr Kayondo.
Ms Krystal Birungi, the insect scientist in the study, said they are  also studying mosquitoes in different areas of the country to determine the density and whether the insecticides used  are still killing them.

The scientists are, however, concerned that people who promote biodiversity would be against the progress of the project.  They also say lack of a legal framework that supports the release and use of genetically modified organisms in the country could affect them.

Mr Charles Ntege, the senior adviser of entolomogy at the Ministry of Health Malaria Control Programme, said the fight against malaria needs fresh tools.
“We need new innovations. The gene drive method is one of the ways. It requires less funding and supervision,”  he said.

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