From 16th to 29th November, the world converged to Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, for the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity. This event gathered the parties signatory to the convention, non-parties, as well as observers from the civil society, indigenous people and local communities, as well as researchers.
With two colleagues from the Malaria Research Training Center of Mali, we attended this conference. This was a first for us and a very interesting opportunity to share our knowledge and experience with policy and decision-makers. This year the topic of gene drive mechanisms was broadly discussed as part of the broader Cartagena Protocol on biosafety and more specifically in sections related to risk assessment.
A side event organised jointly by the African Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society and the Wellcome Trust, provided scientists with an opportunity to present the progress of research in different areas of synthetic biology. I was honoured to present the governance on gene drive for vector control of malaria. In the same session, a Kenyan regulator (Dr Douglas Miano) also provided his perspective on regulation of these technologies. This event was a great opportunity to share knowledge but also to hear the questions from the participants, representing official countries delegation and other interest groups. The discussion highlighted the potential benefits of these technologies as well as the request responsible research.
On 29th, the final text was approved by the parties. It ensures that research on gene drive applications, including potential experimental releases, can be pursued while applying the precautionary principle and ensuring that a case-by-case risk assessment be performed before such releases. It is also aligned with the Target Malaria commitment towards co-development of the technology with affected populations and the need for a continuous stakeholder engagement and participation.
As scientists, this meeting is a reminder of the importance of societal engagement to ensure an evidence-based dialogue can take place. The timing alignment between this meeting and the issue of the 2018 World Malaria Report stressed if needed how critical the integration of the Sustainable Development Goals is.