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The most promising or the most frightening experiment in the fight against malaria: should or shouldn’t we use genetically modified mosquitoes to combat malaria?
“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” (Jurassic Park)
The fight against malaria is a hard one and every person that dies of malaria is one too many. But how far should we go? How much should we put at risk to achieve elimination. What are the ethical, social, environmental and political issues at stake? And who is to decide?
From 13 - 29 November 2018 there is a UN’s convention on biological diversity (CBD) meeting in in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. The Guardian reports that at this particular meeting “recommendations will be considered that call on governments to refrain from releasing organisms that contain gene drives, even in small-scale field trials”. If a UN biodiversity conference imposes a moratorium on this kind of work there could be serious consequences for research on genetically modified mosquitoes and their potential release in the ‘real world’.
But scientists are divided over whether or not ‘gene drive mosquitoes’ should play a role in malaria elimination.
On the one hand there are scientists that believe that the gene drive approach has the potential to significantly reduce the Anopheles gambiae population. Engineered gene drives will be used to modify the DNA of wild organisms on a large scale. The modified mosquitoes will then pass on the mutated gene that renders the females sterile. As a result the population crashes.
On the other hand there are scientist that argue that gene drives pose an unacceptable risk by spreading modified genes through the environment with unpredictable consequences.
And there are scientists, civilians and politicians who argue that it is unethical that ‘western or northern’ funded research groups want to release these genetically modified organisms on the African continent.
The question remains: Who is to decide? What do you think? We will post a poll on this tomorrow. We welcome your view.
- Ban on ‘gene drives’ is back on the UN’s agenda — worrying scientists
Nature, 15 November 2018
- Scientists divided over new research method to combat malaria
The Guardian 14 November 2018
- Release of risky GM mosquitoes in Burkina Faso highly unethical
GMWatch, 9 November 2018
- For the first time, researchers will release genetically engineered mosquitoes in Africa
STATnews, 5 September 2018
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A major gap in the malaria response landscape is the absence of a forum where representatives of the entire malaria world can meet. Our key aim for the inaugural World Congress on Malaria is to unify and energise the broader malaria community around a common sense of purpose, including one that links malaria with the wider global health and human development goals of Universal Health Coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals. Together we can learn from each other, plan for the implementation of cross sector strategies and galvanise the effort for the eradication of malaria.
WHO has just published its toolkit for Integrated Vector Management in sub-Saharan Africa. It is attached here for your perusal (and use!).
This toolkit for integrated vector management (IVM) is designed to help national and regional programme managers coordinate across sectors to design and run large IVM programmes. It is an extension of earlier guidance and teaching material provided by WHO: Handbook for integrated vector management , Monitoring and evaluation indicators for integrated vector management , Guidance on policy-making for integrated vector management and Core structure for training curricula on integrated vector management.