A Whole Country Against a Mosquito

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And we’re losing

From January last year until November, Brazil had 1.5 million people infected with dengue[1]. This is 176% more than 2014 when the numbers were about 555,400. Mosquito larvae can be found in about 4% of Brazilian homes[1]. Army troops go from house to house eliminating stagnated water, in the hopes of stifling larval growth.

And it’s not working.

Even worse than the annoyance of mosquitoes is that they can spread dengue, chikungunya and Zika viruses. Sixty-three percent[1] of dengue cases occurred in the Southeast of Brazil. Eight hundred and eleven people died of dengue in 2015 – 79% more than in 2014. Seven hundred and thirty-nine cases of microcephaly caused by Zika virus were counted in Brazil in 2015, 487 of those in Pernambuco, in the Northeast[1]. Last November 17,146 people were suspected to have chikungunya, but only 6,726 cases were confirmed[1].

Can the mosquito be controlled? Oxitec has been successful at this through genetic engineering, by introducing two genes into the mosquitos. The genetically modified males do not suck blood but when they breed with the females the offspring never reach adult phase. More than 90% of the mosquitos were suppressed by this GM method in six locations: four in Brazil and two abroad.

If this method works, why is it not being used extensively? The answer is, for bureaucratic reasons. The technology was approved by CTNBio – The National Commission of Biosafety approved the technology to be used commercially, but Oxitec inadvertently asked to register the technology commercially to our regulatory authority, ANVISA. This was the wrong strategy. The Ministry of Agriculture Animal Husbandry and Food Supply (MAPA) should be asked for permission, because the mosquito is not a drug. This technology is a form of biological control.

I emailed this to Maria Emilia Pedroza Jaber, then Vice Ministry of MAPA, but received no answer.

One year later, ANVISA still does not know what to do with the mosquito. ANVISA deals with drugs. The GM mosquito is not a drug, and people do not eat it. The technology is similar to another method in progress with Wolbachia. So the mosquito is shelved and people are dying and getting sick. Today Oxitec can use only the technology experimentally, not on a large scale that could be funded by Intrexon, the company that owns Oxitec. Legally CTNBio approval should be enough but it is not. Bureaucracy is causing deaths.

Luiz Antonio Barreto de Castro

[1] All data from the Ministry of Health, Brazil.

Luiz Antonio Barreto de Castro

CEO, ABCP Agriculture Biotechnology Consultorias e Projetos

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