Burkina Faso Testing Genetically Modified Mosquitoes to Curb Malaria

Anopheles gambiae mosquito pupae separated from larvae, collected in cups, and ready to be placed in a cage to capture emerging adult mosquitoes for malaria research.

Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso — The mosquito-borne disease malaria kills more than 400,000 people each year, the vast majority in Africa.

Target Malaria, an international group of scientists, is working in Burkina Faso on a genetic solution.

Abdoulaye Diabate, with the West African country's Research Institute for Science and Health, said the objective of Target Malaria is to develop a genetic control tool specifically applied to mosquitoes to be able to drastically reduce or eliminate the density of mosquitoes.

The scientists are genetically modifying mosquitoes so their offspring will be only male, and any females they mate with after release will also produce just males.

Since only female mosquitoes spread malaria, the disease should drop off quickly along with their population.

In village of Bana, where the genetically modified mosquitoes were first tested in 2019, locals were initially worried about the experiment.

Kiesiara Sanou, a Bana village elder, said that at the beginning, people thought the survey would release mosquitoes in the village that could cause more diseases. But since working with Target Malaria, they've come to understand exactly what the purpose is and now even help them with tasks like collecting the mosquitoes.

Genetically modified mosquitoes are just one malaria solution that has been tested in Burkina Faso. The country also pioneered pesticide-infused mosquito nets.

Oxford University's Jenner Institute in April announced that a malaria vaccine tested in Burkina Faso had a breakthrough 77% efficacy.

Target Malaria said climate and environment play a large part in the country's cutting-edge malaria research.

Naima Sykes, of Target Malaria, said that according to the WHO 2019 World Malaria Report, over 94% of malaria cases and deaths took place in Africa.

Sykes added that when finding institutions to partner with, Target Malaria sought out institutions in countries with a significant malaria burden and a strong desire to do something about it.

The West African Organization for Coordination and Cooperation in the Control of Major Endemic Diseases was set up in the 1960s and headquartered in Burkina Faso.

The research institute's Diabate points out that its scientists are the third generation of malaria researchers.

When you grow up in Burkina Faso's environment, malaria becomes part of your daily life, and it can make you think it's inevitable that you will have it, Diabate said. But he said that when he went to school, his mind opened up, and he soon realized what the source of the problem was.

Thanks to researchers' hard work, said Diabate, Africa's deadly malaria problem is closer to being solved.

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