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IAEA advises Bangladesh on nuclear means to fight Aedes mosquitoes

  • Published at 01:58 pm September 2nd, 2019
Aedes mosquito Bigstock

IAEA and WHO experts agree with Bangladesh officials on a four-year work plan

Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have helped Bangladesh draw up a plan to test a nuclear technique to eliminate Aedes mosquitoes to be rid of dengue.

Experts from IAEA and WHO recently visited Dhaka and met officials of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Ministry of Science and Technology, to discuss the possibility of using the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), according to a press release issued by IAEA on Monday.

 The SIT is a type of insect birth control that uses radiation to sterilize male insects. These are released in large numbers to mate with wild females, which then do not produce any offspring, reducing the target insect population over time.

The experts agreed with Bangladesh officials on a four-year work plan that includes the selection of a pilot site for the release of sterile male mosquitoes in 2021-22.  The scheduled IAEA technical assistance, in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, will also train national staff, upgrade existing facilities to mass rear and sterilize mosquitoes, and collect baseline data ahead of releases.

"The SIT has been successfully implemented against numerous insect pests of agricultural importance and is now being adapted for use against mosquitoes," said Rafael Argiles Herrero, entomologist at the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture.

"The method is very specific to the target species and has no impact on other living organisms or the environment,” he said.  

Bangladesh is facing the worst outbreak of dengue this year. As many as 71,962 patients were admitted to various hospitals across the country since January 1. 

The government has confirmed 57 deaths due to dengue so far.

Dengue is a mosquito borne viral infection transmitted mainly by Aedes mosquitoes, which typically breed in water containers. 

"Bangladesh already established a mosquito insectary in 2008 under an FAO/IAEA project to conduct basic research on the application of SIT," said Mahfuza Khan, director and chief scientific officer at the country’s Institute of Food and Radiation Biology.

 "The insectary can produce 30,000 to 40,000 mosquito larvae per week for SIT application, and the aim in the next four years is to increase this number and test the sterile male mosquitoes in semi-field and field conditions."

The joint mission to Bangladesh is part of a newly established collaboration between the IAEA and WHO. The two organizations signed a Memorandum of Understanding in July 2019 to intensify research and development on the use of SIT to fight disease-transmitting mosquito vectors, the press release said.  

"The collaboration aims to provide more evidence on the benefits of the SIT against human diseases transmitted by mosquitoes," said WHO expert Rajpal Yadav. 

"Preliminary results from field trials using sterile male mosquitoes are very encouraging, but we need more data to show reduced disease incidence before large-scale implementation can be recommended."

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