Mosquito control and the chik-V
THE EDITOR, Sir:
Readers of The Gleaner deserve the facts. There was an article on November 15 about genetically modified mosquitoes that repeated unfounded claims from a UK pressure group without addressing the evidence for this approach to control disease-carrying mosquitoes: http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20141115/lead/lead5.html.
As with any new tool or technology, we need to ask questions about it and gather the information needed to make an informed decision about if and how and when to use it.
In the interest of providing that information, here are some facts about mosquito control and about the Oxitec mosquitoes which you can use to make up your own mind about our solution:
Controlling the Aedes aegypti mosquito is a priority for mosquito-control programmes around the world, as this species is the most effective at transmitting diseases like chikungunya and dengue fever. This is because Aedes aegypti feeds almost exclusively on humans and so diseases like chik-V can spread very quickly.
Currently, there is no cure or working vaccine for chikungunya, and controlling mosquitoes to reduce the likelihood of getting bitten is the best defence. The question is how best to control them.
Current control methods rely on spraying with insecticides, but these can only reduce the pest population by about a third because there are many inaccessible breeding sites. Insecticides can also unintentionally affect other wildlife, so there is a need for more effective and environmentally friendly solutions.
Oxitec scientists have developed a way to control Aedes aegypti by genetically engineering this mosquito so its offspring die and the population crashes. Evaluations of this technology have been done around the world, including in The Cayman Islands, Brazil and Panama, and in every case, the local target mosquito population was cut by 90 per cent or more. This effectiveness is why there is interest in applying this solution to larger areas and in more countries such as in Jamaica and in the United States.
There is also the safety factor. This mosquito-control option is toxin-free and species-specific, so the released insects and their genes do not spread and other beneficial insects and predators are safe.
But it is not up to Oxitec or pressure groups in remote countries to say what is best for Jamaica. Oxitec provides the scientific data to the regulators and governments in each country for assessment by their independent experts. Information and results are also made available to the public. For example, the assessment in Brazil where the Oxitec mosquito has been approved for commercial release on a national basis by CTNBio, the country's biosafety agency, is available online here https://bch.cbd.int/database/record.shtml?documentid=105831.
At the end of the day, it is up to Jamaica to choose the tools needed to fight the mosquito that spreads chikungunya and threatens people's health. We would be delighted to supply you with more information if you wish.
Dr Chris Creese
71 Innovation Drive
Milton Park, Abingdon
UK, OX14 4RQ