We are very enthusiastic about the new phase of the project we are working on in Burkina Faso. It’s the first time that a modified mosquito has been imported to an African country to be reared and studied in laboratories. This is an exciting step not only for the team in Burkina Faso but for the entire research consortium as it shows hopeful progress in the research, capacity building and collaboration between our different teams.
As the first country to import a modified mosquito in Africa – a sterile male mosquito without a gene drive – the team in Burkina Faso is taking its role very seriously and is aware of the responsibility that comes with this challenging new step. Safety is of paramount importance for our team and was considered very carefully before importing the mosquitoes. As per the global step-wise approach of Target Malaria, the sterile male mosquito went through a series of phases testing – beginning with the small cages studies in London, then tested as well in large cages in Italy and finally underwent a series of safety studies before they could be imported to Burkina Faso.
While the teams in Europe worked on the sterile male mosquito strain, we finalised our insectary renovation to ensure it met the international recognised standard ACL2 requirements for arthropod (mosquito) containment. The facility was audited internally by Target Malaria and inspected by the National Agency of Biosafety (NAB). We then submitted an application of importation to the NAB which was approved after a thorough evaluation and review of the dossier.
Alongside the renovations and submission, the team in country was trained in maintaining and working with modified mosquitoes in a contained secured environment. Since the sterile male mosquito was imported in our insectary, the team has been busy studying the different phenotypes that the construct confers to mosquitoes in the genetic background of our local mosquito population.
Besides the work taking place in the insectary, the entomology team has been collecting necessary entomological data so we can get a clear understanding of the structure, temporal dynamic and species composition of mosquitoes in selected villages. These activities have been carried out in combination with effective stakeholder engagement activities in villages and at the national level to engage various stakeholders on the project, to ensure their understanding, to take into account their concerns and to ensure their acceptance.
What is great about our team is that everyone is fully invested in seeing the project being successful especially because Malaria is still a serious public health issue in Burkina Faso and that most of us have been personally affected by the disease.