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IAEA and WHO to Develop a New Framework for the Application of Nuclear Techniques against Mosquito-Borne Diseases

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Sterile males are ‘dusted’ with fluorescent powders before release, facilitating their differentiation from other, wild counterparts. This process allows experts to measure the ratio of sterile to wild males, an important indicator for the success of SIT projects. (Photo: N. Culbert/IPCL)

When it comes to transmitting diseases among people, mosquitoes are unsurpassed in the economic and health burdens they impose. In the absence of efficient drugs or vaccines and given the need to reduce the use of insecticides, international efforts are required to develop and implement new, complementary control techniques for mosquito species. The nuclear sterile insect technique (SIT) is one such technique. To help advance its development for large scale use against mosquitoes, the IAEA last week hosted the second workshop of the Working Group to Finalize the Guidance Framework Document on SIT Applied to Mosquito-Borne Diseases.

Successfully deployed in over 40 countries, the SIT has been applied with the support of the IAEA, in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) against a variety of plant and livestock pests, including fruit flies, moths, tsetse flies and screwworm pests. In cooperation with partners, the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture is spearheading research and development leading to further applications of SIT against Aedes mosquitoes.

As part of these ongoing efforts, the IAEA and the World Health Organization (WHO) recently co-organized an expert meeting—through the Agency’s technical cooperation programme[1]—to provide technical guidance on how to plan, develop and assess the application of SIT on Aedes mosquitoes, which are responsible for the transmission of chikungunya, dengue fever, yellow fever and Zika, among other diseases.

“The IAEA is implementing one interregional and several regional and national projects to support 50 Member States from Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean to implement SIT for mosquito control,” said Luis Carlos Longoria, Director of the Technical Cooperation Division for Latin America and the Caribbean. “The guidance framework will be a key resource for all of these nations interested in applying the SIT; it will add to their tool kit for the management of their mosquito populations.”

Participants of the Working Group meeting to Finalize the Guidance Framework Document on SIT Applied to Mosquito-Borne Diseases. (Photo: O. Yusuf/IAEA)

Held from 2 to 4 July, the Working Group meeting was organized to continue working on a guidance document which clarifies all aspects of SIT application against Aedes mosquitoes, from SIT testing and risk assessments to the final rearing and release of sterile males. It follows an initial meeting in February 2019 in Tapachula, Mexico, during which the purpose and contents of the guidance document were agreed upon.

The members of the Working Group shared the latest developments in their respective fields of expertise. Participants from the WHO provided updates on novel vector control activities being implemented in Europe, and experts also discussed the need for community engagement and cost-effectiveness in the application of SIT. Participants visited the FAO/IAEA Insect Pest Control Laboratory in Seibersdorf, Austria to observe the mass-rearing and irradiation processes of mosquitoes.

The guidance is expected to be published before the end of 2019.

In addition to FAO/IAEA staff and two counterparts from the World Health Organization, 13 experts from 11 countries attended the meeting. These included China, Egypt, France, India, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Singapore, Thailand, United Kingdom and the United States.

Background

The SIT is an environmentally-friendly insect pest control method involving the mass-rearing and sterilization, using radiation, of a target pest, followed by the systematic area-wide release of the sterile males by air over defined areas, where they mate with wild females resulting in no offspring and a declining pest population.

Aedes mosquitoes are responsible for transmitting several dangerous diseases, including chikungunya, dengue, yellow fever and Zika. Like other vectors, mosquitoes thrive under conditions where housing is poor, water is unsanitary, and pollution is widespread—as a result, the health burden of mosquitoes is heaviest among poor, underserved communities.

Of note, vector-borne diseases account for more than 17% of all infectious diseases, causing more than 700,000 deaths annually – mainly by a different group of mosquitoes: The Anopheles mosquitoes. Many of these are preventable through informed, protective measures.  

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[1] INT5155, ‘Sharing Knowledge on the Sterile Insect and Related Techniques for the Integrated Area-Wide Management of Insect Pests and Human Disease Vectors’

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