May 19, 2024

USAID, Bill Gates, UK, Wellcome Launch Novel Scheme to Stop Zika, Dengue in Antioquia

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the UK Department for International Development and UK-based Wellcome Foundation jointly announced October 26 that they’re funding a novel, US$18-million project to stop Zika and dengue diseases — initially focusing on Antioquia and Brazil.

The project involves releasing mosquitos that are infected with the Wolbachia bacteria, which then breed with Zika and dengue-carrying mosquitoes. Such inter-breeding “can significantly reduce the capacity of mosquitoes to transmit viruses to humans,” according to a joint press statement from the partners (see:

Wolbachia is already present in up to 60% of all insect species worldwide,” according to the partners.  “However, Wolbachia does not occur naturally in Aedes aegypti, the mosquito species primarily responsible for transmitting an array of debilitating and sometimes deadly diseases, including Zika, dengue fever, chikungunya, and yellow fever.

“Over the past decade, the Eliminate Dengue Program (EDP), a non-profit international research collaboration led from Australia’s Monash University, has pioneered a way to transfer Wolbachia into Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Years of research have shown that introducing Wolbachia into this mosquito species makes it incapable of transmitting viruses.

“When mosquitoes with Wolbachia are released into an area, they breed with local mosquitoes and pass the bacteria to their offspring. Within a few months, the majority of mosquitoes carry Wolbachia and this effect is then self-sustaining without the need for further releases.

“Since 2011, field trials using this method have been undertaken in five countries and show that when a high proportion of mosquitoes in an area carry Wolbachia, local transmission of viruses is stopped,” according to the partners.

In 2015, researchers undertook a small-scale field trial in the Medellin suburb of Bello. A new, larger-scale trial in 2017 will be extended across Bello “and other parts of Antioquia,” according to the partners.

Wolbachia could be a revolutionary form of protection against mosquito-borne disease. It’s affordable, sustainable, and appears to provide protection against Zika, dengue, and a host of other viruses,” added Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation global health president Trevor Mundel.

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