Boost in fight against malaria as WHO okays guidance on gene-edited mosquito research

The World Health Organization has issued fresh guidelines that are set to inform research on the fight against mosquito borne diseases such as malaria.

Once the guidelines are proven safe, effective and affordable, the study on gene-edited vector mosquitoes could yield a valuable weapon in the elimination of vector borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and Zika across the world.

Mosquito borne diseases are reported to affect millions of people globally, with more than 400,000 people dying from malaria alone in a year.

“We welcome this new guidance from WHO which will help countries suffering from mosquito-borne diseases to evaluate a promising new intervention,” said Professor Aggrey Ambali, Senior Advisor at the African Union Development Agency-New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AUDA-NEPAD), the development agency of the AU.

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GeneConvene Global Collaborative, an initiative of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, describes best practices to ensure that the study and evaluation of genetically modified mosquitoes as public health tools is not only safe, ethical but also rigorous.

“We urgently need innovative approaches to help control mosquito-borne diseases, which have a devastating impact around the world,” said Dr John Reeder, Tropical Disease Research Director. “Genetically modified mosquitoes is one such approach, but we want to be sure it’s fully and responsibly evaluated.”

WHO Global Malaria Programme Director, Dr Pedro Alonso, said they have managed to achieve remarkable results with existing malaria control tools, averting over seven million deaths and 1.5 billion cases of the disease since 2000. 

“The incidence of dengue continues to increase and affect people in over 129 countries, so we need more sustainable vector control tools to stem the tide of dengue and other arbovirus diseases and a few novel tools offer the potential to control these diseases,” said Dr Mwele Malecela, Director of the WHO Department for the Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases.

The fresh guidelines answer new questions that the gene-edited mosquitoes raise to researchers, the disease affected communities and stakeholders alike.

Dr Michael Santos, Director of the GeneConvene Global Collaborative, added that “this will help ensure that testing of genetically modified mosquitoes is as rigorous as it is for other public health products – and that it generates quality results to guide decisions about if and how these technologies are used.”

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