Scientists eye gene drive technology to combat malaria

S. Buguzi,  Sci Dev Net,  2021.

Scientists are hoping that adoption of gene drive technology could reduce mosquito populations as they call for new innovations in the fight against malaria, a fatal disease widespread in Sub-Saharan Africa. The World Health Organization (WHO) says the Africa region accounted for around 94 per cent of all global malaria cases and deaths in 2019. Over two-thirds of deaths were among children under the age of five. Gene drive technology — genetic engineering that modifies malaria mosquitoes so they can pass their genes on to large mosquito populations — could potentially contribute to malaria elimination in Africa, according to Krystal Birungi, a field entomology coordinator at the not-for-profit research consortium Target Malaria, Uganda. “There is a sense in which our best tools today are also our oldest, which implies that innovation needs to be scaled up.” Fredros Okumu, entomologist and director of science, Ifakara Health Institute, Tanzania “It is a cost-effective way to cut down malaria vectors, and is simple to implement because the mosquitoes themselves do the work,” said Birungi during a Roll Back Malaria Partnership virtual boot camp on malaria control innovation on 15 November. Although the technology is not on the market, and is yet to gain public acceptance, if rolled out it could complement existing malaria interventions such as insecticide-treated nets and indoor residual spray, helping reduce malaria cases, according to Birungi.

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