IAEA to Organize Expert Meeting on Fighting ‘Zika’ Mosquitoes

 Aedes Mosquitoes that transmit viruses such as dengue fever, chikungunya, and zika. (Photo: D.Calma/IAEA)

In response to the Zika outbreak in Latin America, the IAEA will organize a meeting of experts to review the use of nuclear techniques for the control of mosquitoes that carry the virus, Director General Yukiya Amano said in Mexico City on Thursday.

“In my visits to countries throughout Central America in the past 10 days, I have discussed efforts to use the sterile insect technique (SIT) to control mosquito populations that carry the Zika and other viruses,” he said at the Matías Romero Institute. “The Agency tries to respond quickly to emerging crises of this nature.”

Zika, which has been detected in 23 countries in the Americas, is believed to be linked to serious birth defects. At present, there is  no vaccine or cure.  The World Health Organization declared Zika an international public health emergency on Monday.

SIT is a form of pest control that uses ionizing radiation to sterilize male insects  that are mass-produced in special rearing facilities. It has been successfully used throughout the world for over 50 years for various agricultural insect pests. Read more about the potential use of the technique to control the Aedes mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus here.

Several countries have sought support  from the IAEA in this area in recent weeks. The international experts’ meeting on Aedes Mosquito Population Control Using an Integrated Vector Management Approach with SIT Component in Brasilia, Brazil on 22-23 February will address ways in which SIT can become part of integrated mosquito control programmes. It is organized in cooperation with Brazil’s Ministry of Health.

Experts from Brazil, China, Mexico, Sweden, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, the IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) will develop a road map towards the control of Aedes populations in the region in the short and long term. This will be followed by a regional meeting of SIT experts to develop an implementation plan.  

IAEA and Mexico

During his visit to Mexico from 3-6 February, Mr Amano met with senior government officials including Secretary of Energy Pedro Joaquín Coldwell to discuss cooperation with Mexico, nuclear safety and security and nuclear energy. He also visited the  National  Institute of Nuclear Research (ININ).

In his statement at the Matías Romero Institute, Mexico’s  diplomatic academy, Mr Amano  talked of the extensive cooperation between Mexico and the IAEA in energy planning, nuclear power, human health, radioactive waste management, water and environmental protection.

Speaking on World Cancer Day, he described cancer  as “a great human tragedy” and outlined the  ways in which the IAEA helps countries fight the disease. This is especially important in developing countries that lack the capacity to provide radiotherapy, a vital element of cancer  control.

“Patients often die of cancers which could be treated if they lived in a country with well-developed cancer facilities,” he said. Mr Amano said  Mexico will benefit from IAEA support to increase the availability of radiation oncology services and improve cancer management at regional hospitals.

He  noted that more than 170 Mexican scientists had held fellowships and visited the IAEA laboratories in Austria. This experience allowed Mexican experts to work with other top international scientists and come back to share their expertise with their peers.

Mr Amano expressed his gratitude to Mexico for its support  for the work of the IAEA. “I am grateful for the important work which Mexico does in sharing its expertise in the nuclear field with other countries in this region, including by providing specialist training.”

Mr Amano  recognized Latin America’s pioneering role in establishing the world’s first nuclear-weapon-free zone in a populated area under the 1967 Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean. The treaty was signed in Mexico and is  generally referred to as the Tlatelolco Treaty.

Mexico was the last stop of Mr Amano’s two-week trip to Central America. He previously  visited Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala

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