Some 200 million malaria cases are clinically diagnosed each year, with up to 3,000 people dying every day from the disease in sub-Saharan Africa alone. We have developed an environmentally-friendly nuclear technique to control major insect pests, with the potential to control also mosquitos and the disease they carry.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria. Globalization and climate change further exacerbate the problem.

Although conventional insecticide-based mosquito control methods, such as bed nets and repellents, have proven to be effective under certain conditions, resistance to insecticides is increasing and scientists are constantly looking for new ways to tackle the pests transmitting these diseases.

The IAEA, in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has developed a cost-effective, environmentally-friendly and residue-free nuclear technique, the sterile insect technique, that is used effectively against major insect pests and promises also to be effective in combatting malaria-transmitting mosquitoes and the diseases they carry. This method is already deployed in many regions to control the spread of various other health-threatening pests, such as the sleeping sickness transmitted by the tsetse fly.

This technique uses radiation to sterilize male insects so when they mate with females, no offspring is produced. Over time, this gradually reduces the insect population. The technique is used in more than 20 countries worldwide and is particularly successful in areas with isolated insect populations, where wild fertile females cannot fly in from neighbouring regions to re-establish insect populations.

However, the sterile insect technique has yet to be used on a large scale against malaria-transmitting mosquitoes, in part due to technical challenges that include releasing only male sterile mosquitoes, as well as having efficient trapping systems. We work with our partners, such as the Islamic Development Bank, to conduct feasibility studies to find out whether the technique can be used as a control tactic for area-wide, integrated mosquito management.

We have also provided essential equipment and technology needed for mosquito mass rearing to South Africa and Sudan, and have trained entomologists from a number of Member States.

In addition to the sterile insect technique, technology transfer, capacity-building and public awareness are essential factors in the joint FAO and IAEA insect pest control strategy. Together we work with our Member States to promote nuclear techniques in the fight against insect pests and to ultimately address the health issues that arise when mosquitoes bite and infect people.

Stay in touch