WHO: Technique can be used as part of global efforts to control diseases

Monday, January 27th, 2020 00:00 |
Kenya Navy medical team examine patients during a Kenya Defence Forces medical camp at Mtongwe dispensary Likoni, Mombasa County last week. The medical camp was part of the KDF civil military cooperation programme aimed at assisting in the improvement of health for the community neighbouring Mtongwe Naval base. Photo/PDNDEGWA GATHUNGU

 Mwangi Mumero

Sterilising mosquitoes using radiation can be used as part of global health efforts to control diseases such as chikungunya, dengue fever and Zika, the World Health Organisation (WHO) now says.

The Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) is a form of insect birth control. 

Basically, the process involved taking a large number of male mosquitoes and then sterilising them using radiation.

Once released into the wild, their mating with females results in offspring hence declining mosquito populations.

Develop guidance

Already, WHO together with its partners have developed guidance content in testing and sterilising technique for Aedes species of mosquitos.

Unlike its famously known Anopheles mosquitoes, the Aedes species transmits three viral diseases—chikungunya, dengue fever and Zika.

 “Half the world’s population is now at risk of dengue. We desperately need new approaches and this initiative is both promising and exciting,” said WHO chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan,  in a recent press release in Geneva.

She said current methods of controlling dengue are failing to deliver desirable results.

According to WHO, environmental changes, unregulated urbanisation, transport and travel, and insufficient sustainable vector control tools and their application have led to surge in dengue fever across the world.

Dengue fever is characterised by sudden high fever, severe headaches, pain behind the eyes, joint and muscle pain, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and skin rash. Zika and chikungunya have similar symptoms with little variation.

Transmission mode

Diseases transmitted by mosquitoes such as malaria, dengue, Zika, chikungunya, and yellow fever account for about 17 per cent of all infectious diseases globally, claiming more than 700,000 lives each year, and inflicting suffering on many more.

This sterilisation technique  has been used successfully to target insect pests that attack crops and livestock, such as the Mediterranean fruit fly and the New World screwworm fly.

 It is currently in use globally in the agriculture sector on six continents.

In Kenya, similar work has been carried by the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in controlling tsetse fly in Lambwe Valley in Homa Bay county.

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