IAEA Board of Governors Approves 2.3 Million Euro Project to Help Combat Zika

The IAEA, in partnership with FAO, spearheads global research in the development of the sterile insect technique and its application against mosquitoes (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

A new 2.3 million euro initiative will help countries in Latin America and the Caribbean fight the Zika virus with a nuclear technique that has been used to suppress various insect pests, the IAEA Board of Governors decided today. The IAEA will donate special equipment and train local staff on the use of the technique against the Aedes mosquito, which carries the virus.

“The project will strengthen national and regional mechanisms for control of the Aedes mosquito population,” said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano. The initiative complements immediate IAEA support provided to countries in the region in the wake of the Zika outbreak to help rapid detection of the virus.

The IAEA will transfer the sterile insect technique (SIT), a form of pest control that uses ionizing radiation to sterilize male insects mass-produced in special rearing facilities. The IAEA, in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), spearheads global research in the development and application of SIT.

Under the new project, sterilized male mosquitoes will be released over affected areas, where they will mate with wild females, which will not produce any offspring. This will significantly reduce mosquito populations and disease transmission.

The Aedes mosquito is the carrier of the Zika, Chikungunya and Dengue viruses. So far, Zika has spread to 31 countries and territories in the Americas. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared it a public health emergency of international concern, predicting that Zika could infect three to four million people in the Americas this year. The virus may be associated to neurological disorders and it has no immediate cure.

The IAEA will train local staff on insect management, including SIT, and help strengthen knowledge and information exchange between countries, building on IAEA projects already running in the region, said Luis Longoria, Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. The project builds on the recommendations of an international experts’ meeting that took place last month in Brazil to discuss the use of the technique as part of a comprehensive approach to controlling mosquito populations.

The IAEA is seeking funding from Member States for the four-year project, which is scheduled to start in April this year. It will be implemented in coordination with the WHO, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and national health authorities, and will integrate all relevant insect management approaches.

Since 1964, the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture has transferred SIT to numerous countries to combat pests that affect food and crops, and insects that transmit diseases – including mosquitoes since 2004. SIT is among the safest and most environmentally friendly, and therefore sustainable, control methods available, and is usually applied as part of integrated campaigns to suppress insect pest populations.

The Joint FAO/IAEA Division is running more than 50 projects to help countries apply this technique. Fifteen of the projects target mosquito populations.

Last update: 10 March 2016