Burkina Faso is getting ready for its next stage of research – sterile male mosquito release

At Target Malaria in Burkina Faso, we are currently working on the first phase of our research – a genetically modified sterile male mosquito. The team in Burkina Faso has been working on the genetically modified sterile male mosquito in our contained insectary at the Institut de Recherche en Sciences de la Santé (IRSS) since its importation in November 2016 in Bobo-Dioulasso from Italy.

The importation of the sterile male strain, took place after we received the authorisation of the Agence Nationale de Biosécurité (National Biosafety Agency) to work on the sterile male mosquito strain under containment.

This mosquito is a Living Modified Organism (LMO) as per the existing regulatory framework existing in Burkina and internationally recognised as part of the Cartagena Protocol – for which Burkina is a signatory. This mosquito has a genetic modification that leads to a complete sterility of the males. As such, when the males reproduce with wild-type females, there is no progeny produced. This is what is also called a self-limiting mosquito, as this mosquito does not persist in the environment if it is released – due to the sterility. Thus this is not a gene drive mosquito but a step for us to develop knowledge and capacity for the future malaria vector control tool that we are developing.

Target Malaria aims at developing and sharing an innovative vector control tool, which would be self-sustaining and thus cost-efficient, using gene drive technology. This is still under development in the laboratory of our partner institution at Imperial College London and though they have made good progress, there are still years of work to be carried out before we can apply to bring a mosquito with gene drive technology to Burkina Faso.

The next big milestone of our project in Burkina Faso is to proceed with a small-scale release of sterile male mosquitoes (no more than 10,000) in a village site in Burkina Faso. We received the authorisation from the Agence Nationale de Biosécurité in August 2018 to proceed with this activity and we are very happy and looking forward to this step. It will be the first of its kind on the African continent and our team has been working since 2012 to reach this point.

Everyone in our team and across the consortium is fully invested in seeing the project being successful in Burkina Faso and takes the inherent responsibility very seriously. We are committed to develop a new vector control tool for malaria using genetic technologies which would be complementary to the existing tools.

Let’s not forget that Malaria is still a serious public health problem in Africa and in Burkina Faso. The World Malaria Report of 2018, shows us once more that progress against malaria has stalled. In 2017 alone, malaria represented 7.9 million estimated cases and 27.8 thousand estimated deaths in Burkina Faso. This is why we are devoted to research a new way to help millions of people affected by this disease.

Watch the video below to learn more about our stakeholder engagement work with local participant in the neighbourhood of the Institut de Recherche en Sciences de la Santé  in Bobo-Dioulasso.