Uganda to use Genetically modified Mosquitoes in Malaria fight

The Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) under the Target Malaria project is developing a tool for adopting genetic modification in a way of eliminating malaria within the country. 

This was revealed by scientists on Monday during the media engagement at the MRC/UVRI and LSHTM Uganda Research Unit headquarters in Entebbe. 

According to Jude Bigirwenkya, the Stakeholder Engagement Manager at UVRI, the target malaria project is still in the early stages of developing innovative methods to control the population of malaria-transmitting mosquitoes. 

Jude Bigirwenkya, the Stakeholder Engagement Manager at UVRI

“We have built our insectary at UVRI and also applied for regulatory permission to be able to move to the next level of importing and studying genetically modified mosquitoes within our insectary to find out whether they can contribute to eliminating malaria,” he said. 

In addition, Bigirwenkya noted that research takes quite a while and they anticipated to take more than two years after importing the mosquitoes and having them ride on a given area to have an impact on malaria. 

“The World Health Organisation (WHO) has given guidance on this kind of study, and to see whether these modified mosquitoes can be added to the other tools for the control of malaria, which tools have had challenges like drug resistance making them to not effectively address the problem of malaria,” he explained.

“In Uganda, we are losing between 17,000 to 18,000 people annually, equivalent to 48 people dying daily as a result of malaria,” noted Bigirwenkya, adding that the available tools have had challenges. “That’s why we think that genetic modification should be also considered as one of the tools that could be used to deal with the problem of malaria,” he appealed. 

Krystal Birungi, the Field Entomology Coordinator for the Target Malaria, Uganda project highlighted that these mosquitoes will be shipped in the version of eggs, because eggs withstand shipping capacity better, and are easier to contain- on addition to the strict regulations when it comes to shipping organisms. 

“Malaria is especially a challenge for pregnant women and children under the age of five whereby however much we have a lot of tools to fight this disease like the nets, insecticide spraying and others, we are also developing this tool of the genetically modified mosquitoes to supplement on the fight of eliminating malaria in the country,” she said. 

Birungi also noted that the modification will either see that mosquitoes produce very few eggs or lay and hatch male-dominated off-springs which do not spread malaria.

According to the latest World Malaria report, there were 249 million cases and 608,000 deaths of malaria in 2022 compared to 244 million cases in 2021. 

Uganda has the world’s highest malaria incidence rate of 478 cases per 1,000 population per year. It is also the leading cause of sickness and death in the country and is responsible for up to 40 percent of all outpatient visits, 25 percent of hospital admissions, and 14 percent of all hospital death.

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