Talks with govt, partners underway, says WMP Director
The World Mosquito Program (WMP) wants to step into Bangladesh with its technology to help the country deal with dengue that caused widespread woes last year, saying that it has a record of successful journeys in a number of countries, including Australia, significantly reducing dengue cases.
“Dengue is a big problem in Australia but it is much bigger problem in many countries including here in Bangladesh,” global public health expert Dr Peter Ryan told Dhaka Courier during his recent Bangladesh visit.
The WMP currently operates in 12 countries and their method involves using safe and natural bacteria known as “Wolbachia” to prevent transmission of mosquito-borne viral diseases such as dengue, Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever.
Dr Peter, also Director (Business Development) of the WMP, said they are now in talks with the government of Bangladesh to find a sustainable solution to that end.
“Dengue is the world’s fastest growing tropical disease. We know what a serious [problem] it is in Bangladesh. The year 2019 has been the worst year for dengue here in nearly 20 years, with over 100,000 cases and more than 130 deaths,” he said.
Dr Peter said they want to work with the government of Bangladesh and local partners to try and bring the World Mosquito Program’s Wolbachia method to help prevent dengue transmission in Bangladesh.
“Each country we work takes a range of partners. First and foremost, we need the support from the government to do this,” said the expert who has more than 20 years’ experience in public health and specialising in the control of medically important viruses.
He also laid emphasis on talks with the health ministry, city corporations, support of technical partners and independent experts to carefully proceed with the plan. “It really needs careful planning ahead of bringing a technology.”
Candidates of the upcoming mayoral polls in Dhaka South and North City Corporations pledged to make the city free from mosquitoes through planned efforts.
Dr Peter, who works closely with public health agencies in target implementation countries to develop their Wolbachia method to prevent dengue, Zika and other pathogens, said their work is based out of two hubs – Asian hub in Ho Chi Minch City, Vietnam and Oceania Hub at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia – with a third Latin American Hub opening in Panama this year.
He said there is growing evidence that the World Mosquito Program’s Wolbachia-method reduces transmission of mosquito-borne diseases. “Our Wolbachia-carrying mosquitos have reached 4.4 million people in 12 countries and our goal is to reach 100 million people by 2023.”
Dr Peter said a trial in Yogyakarta, Indonesia has shown a 76 percent reduction in dengue cases in the area covered by Wolbachia-carrying mosquitos compared to a predefined control site across the city.
He also said they witnessed a 96 percent reduction in locally-transmitted dengue cases in far North Queensland, Australia eight years after the release of Wolbachia-carrying mosquitos.
The health expert also shared the success stories that had from Brazil and Vietnam saying they hope it could be a tool in Bangladesh in the future.
Responding to a question, Dr Peter said it needs to be applied for a short period of time and it is the most cost effective method in large cities like Dhaka. “Cost will go down with larger operation.”
“We think we’ve tools available to prevent dengue. We recognise bringing a new technology such as Wolbachia needs to be done carefully each country we work,” he said adding that they are also working in India and plans to work in Myanmar, too.
He said they need strong community support, too apart from the government support and they are ready to take suggestions from independent experts.
Before 1970, only nine countries had experienced severe epidemics of dengue fever. Now, the disease is endemic in 100 countries, infecting 400 million people a year and is intensifying rapidly.
The World Mosquito Program is working in partnership with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to investigate the use of self-sustaining Wolbachia bacteria to combat dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases in India.
How Wolbachia Works
The unique innovative approach involves the release of mosquitos carrying Wolbachia, a naturally occurring bacterium and found in 60 percent insects.
Wolbachia does not naturally occur in the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the main transmitter of dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases such as chikungunya, Zika and yellow fever.
Dr Peter said the Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes are released in areas where mosquito-borne viruses are endemic. Once Wolbachia carrying mosquiotos are released, they breed with wild mosquitoes.
Over the time, the percentage of misquotes carrying Wolbachia grows until it remains high without the need for further releases.
The WMP’s self-sustaining method offers a safe, effective and long term solution to reducing the burden of these diseases, said Dr Peter.