OXFORD, England -- Panama has now approved the next phase of evaluation for sterile mosquitoes as a novel tool to combat the dengue mosquito.
The announcement comes weeks after Panama's Health Minister, Javier Diaz, declared that the country was experiencing a “dengue epidemic”. Concern over Panama's growing number of cases has highlighted the need for new, more effective ways of controlling the dengue mosquito, Aedes aegypti, which transmits the disease.
Following a recommendation from Panama's National Biosafety Committee, and formal approval from the ministries of agricultural development and commerce and industry, an open-field evaluation of Oxitec's mosquitoes will be conducted by the Gorgas Institute -- a world-leader in developing advanced approaches for controlling disease-carrying mosquitoes. Oxitec will provide technical support to the project.
Oxitec is a pioneer in controlling insects that spread disease and damage crops. Its products build upon the use of the sterile insect technique (SIT), an effective, species-specific and environmentally friendly method of controlling harmful and damaging insects.
Nestor Sosa, director of the Gorgas Institute, said: "Dengue fever is a growing concern in Panama, and the tools we have for controlling the dengue mosquito are limited and increasingly ineffective. There is a real need to explore additional, more effective technologies for combatting this pest and tackling the dengue problem."
The evaluation will begin this spring in a residential suburb of the Arraijan District, west of Panama City and is expected to run for several months. In previous evaluations of Oxitec's mosquitoes, dengue mosquito populations in the Cayman Islands and in Brazil have been suppressed by over 90% in the area of release. The Arraijan District suffers from a high incidence of dengue fever, with dengue cases in Panama as a whole tripling between 2012 and 2013. Extensive community education and engagement will be an integral part of the evaluation.
Sosa added: "Oxitec's approach has already shown great promise. It's a technology that is completely specific to the dengue mosquito we are targeting, and by helping to reduce our reliance on chemical pesticides, it could also be beneficial for the environment."
"We've worked closely with Oxitec and with local communities here in Panama to bring this project to the evaluation stage, and I'm delighted that we're now able to take this next step. People in Panama know as well as anyone the toll that dengue fever can exact on a community: this exciting new technology may offer real hope for a future free from dengue."
Dengue is a debilitating disease spread by Aedes mosquitoes: primarily by the “dengue mosquito”, Aedes aegypti. It causes a range of severe flu-like symptoms and is sometimes, in extreme cases, fatal. Dengue is estimated by the WHO to affect 50-100 million people a year, though a recent publication in Nature suggested that the true number may be around 350 million. Dengue incidence is increasing rapidly around the world and there is currently no vaccine or specific medication. In 2013, Panama had over 3,000 reported dengue cases -- more than triple the number in 2012.