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IAEA Promotes the Integrated Management of Invasive Aedes Species in Europe

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Visit of the meeting participants to  the Athenian suburb of Vravrona, where an IAEA-supported SIT pilot trial was conducted. (Photo: G. Balatsos/Benaki Phytopathology Institutes)

The spread of invasive pests to any new region has implications for national and regional public health authorities. For European health officials, mosquitoes in the Aedes genus are of concern, as they are responsible for the transmission of many pathogens and parasites. Since 2016, an IAEA technical cooperation (TC) project[1], implemented with the support of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has supported the integration of the sterile insect technique (SIT) into existing national pest control strategies, to help delay, curtail and contain the spread of pathogen-carrying mosquitoes in Europe.

During the project’s final coordination meeting, held in Athens, Greece in February 2020, FAO/IAEA experts and counterparts revised the work plan for a follow-up TC project[2], to be launched in 2021, with the support of representatives of the World Health Organization (WHO).

High volumes of international trade and travel, as well as rising global average temperatures in recent years, have helped to provide the conditions for the introduction of at least five species of Aedes mosquitoes into Europe, creating new public health risks which will require the attention and efforts of experts from several fields to effectively contain the spread of the mosquito species.

From 24 to 28 February in Athens, 18 participants from 10 countries met with five experts and three representatives of the WHO to review the lessons learned and best practices developed during the first project, and to prepare the activities of a subsequent, follow-up project. The participants discussed how to integrate and use SIT within the context of an integrated Aedes-control programme and explored the possibility of closer collaboration with their respective European Ministries of Health and with the WHO. During the meeting, participants visited the area where an SIT pilot trial was implemented in Vravrona—east of Athens—and noted the engagement of local stakeholders, from municipal community leaders to representatives from the private insect pest control sector.

A female Aedes albopictus mosquito. (Photo: T. Wallner/FAO/IAEA)

Under the auspices of the first project, which ran from 2016 to 2020, a series of capacity-building workshops and training courses were organized to disseminate the skills necessary for the effective integration of the SIT. Moreover, some countries launched pilot SIT trials between 2017 and 2019. In Vravrona, for example, 15,000 male mosquitoes per week were sterilized and released in a five-hectare area in 2018, and an additional 30,000 per week were released in an increased area of ten hectares in 2019.

The threat of vector-borne diseases is not altogether new to European health officials, however. Outbreaks of chikungunya took place in Italy in 2007 and 2017, while endemic cases of chikungunya virus infection were detected in Southern France in 2010 and 2017, and local dengue cases were registered in Croatia in 2010 and in France in 2014 and 2018. Local transmission of Zika was also recorded in France in 2019. Additionally, the rising incidence of container-breeding species of Aedes mosquitoes in Europe—including A. japonicus, A. atropalpus and A. aegypti, a vector which carries and spreads dengue, Zika, Mayaro and yellow fever—has drawn international attention to the subject of vector control.

These experiences have reinforced the health hazards associated with the uncontrolled spread of invasive pests in the imagination of the public, and have highlighted the prevention, containment and suppression roles to be played by public health policy-makers and entomologists. Reflecting existing European Union (EU) policies for the reduction of insecticide use, decision-makers in the region are increasingly considering the SIT to provide an environment-friendly alternative for pest control. They also plan to develop detection and early response procedures in the event of new introductions of A. aegypti, to eliminate these outbreaks before they spread, and to further protect the Europe region, where SIT may play an important role.

 “In 2019, following the pilot releases, a 90% reduction in the population of Aedes albopictus mosquitoes was observed when compared with the reference site,” said Antonios Michaelakis, Researcher at the Department of Entomology and Agricultural Zoology at the Benaki Phytopathology Institute in Greece. He also said, “This result has demonstrated that the SIT could help suppressing mosquitoes and reducing the use of insecticides which are negatively impacting human health and environment.”

Based on the successful SIT pilot in Greece, the participating countries will continue working towards the integration of SIT as part of their area-wide integrated pest management.

[1] RER5022, ‘Establishing Genetic Control Programmes for Aedes Invasive Mosquitoes’

[2] RER5026, ‘Enhancing the Capacity to Integrate Sterile Insect Technique in the Effective Management of Invasive Aedes Mosquitoes’

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