New West African vector management programme sets out its aims for malaria control with gene drive at its centre

Posted 18th August 2022 by Dr. Charles Mugoya

Regional bodies have an important role to play in fostering collaboration and expertise in public health matters to tackle diseases such as malaria, which currently takes the life of a child every minute. Recently, the 15 countries from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) formed a new integrated vector management programme seeking to control and eliminate malaria and other vector-borne diseases.

Using gene drive technology as a pathfinder technology, the West Africa Integrated Vector Management Programme (WAIVM) has been set up to improve knowledge and enhance capacities in the management and regulation of integrated vector management. Integrated Vector Management is a process of coordinating implementation of vector management tools in countries to enhance efficiency, cost effectiveness and sustainability of vector and disease control.

The West African Health Organization (WAHO) has been assigned to serve as WAIVM’s secretariat, and it has established a steering committee of 4 technical staff working on its key themes:

  • Health Regulation
  • Biosafety Regulation
  • Disease Management
  • Vector Control and Ethics

The programme was launched following the publication of a comprehensive report on gene drive for the control and elimination of malaria by the African Union High Level Panel on Emerging Technologies (APET) in 2018. Using recommendations from the report, the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) identified ECOWAS as the initial focus region for integrated vector management activities in Africa, before looking to scale up the programme to other African regions.

Representatives of ECOWAS member states agreed on a scope and approach for rolling out the programme in Accra, Ghana in 2017, where discussions identified the need to use emerging technologies, like gene drive, to contribute towards eliminating malaria by 2030.

Since its establishment, WAIVM has developed a set of seven guidelines to guide scientists undertaking research activities with genetically modified mosquito vectors and regulators who may be reviewing such activities. These include:

  • Guidelines for importation, exportation, transfer, handling, labelling and storage of genetically modified mosquitoes;
  • Guidelines for containment facilities for testing of genetically modified mosquitoes;
  • Guidelines for institutional biosafety committees;
  • Guidelines on compliance, monitoring and inspection of activities involving genetically modified mosquitoes;
  • Guidance for the use of genetically modified mosquitoes;
  • Ethics guidelines for the use of genetically modified mosquitoes;
  • Risk analysis for testing and deployment of genetically modified mosquitoes.

As gene drive is an emerging and innovative technology, the WAIVM programme has an important role to play in fostering expertise and knowledge-sharing around the regulation of integrated vector management, specifically genetically modified mosquitoes.

The WAIVM programme enhances regional harmonisation for knowledge sharing and regulatory approaches to genetically modified mosquitoes. Target Malaria welcomes this programme as a valuable tool in the journey towards malaria control.