International scientific and government experts held a forum on 16 May 2012 to discuss the potential use of Oxitec’s genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes as a tool to combat Dengue Fever in Panama.
The independent forum was co-organised by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), The Gorgas Memorial Institute for Health Studies and the University of Panama. This brought together national and regional experts from these institutes as well as the Pan American Health Organisation, Panama’s Ministry of Health and Oxitec. It was held in order to bring all parties together and address issues raised by pressure groups in a closed meeting in March. These groups were invited to participate in the Smithsonian forum but declined to attend.
The Gorgas Memorial Institute for Health Studies (GMI) is a medical research institution that, for more than 80 years, has been dedicated to investigating diseases in the tropics and preventive medicine. The Institute is named after Dr. William Crawford Gorgas, who is credited with eradicating yellow fever in Panama, a disease spread by the same mosquito, Aedes aegypti, that now spreads Dengue Fever. As a pioneer in disease prevention GMI is seeking to evaluate Oxitec’s approach to combat the dengue mosquito in Panama. The Gorgas initiative was publicised last year in an open forum attended by the Health Minister Dr. Franklin Vergara. The Smithsonian conference was the latest in a series of events, which has also included TV and newspaper coverage and community meetings, designed to engage and inform the public, media and officials in Panama about Oxitec’s solution.
At the forum Dr Luke Alphey, Oxitec’s Chief Scientific Officer, explained how Oxitec’s genetically modified Dengue mosquito can offer an effective, sustainable approach to controlling the Dengue mosquito in Panama. Dr Alphey said:
“We are very grateful to the Smithsonian for taking the initiative and hosting this meeting. Dengue fever is a serious problem in Panama and the Oxitec ‘birth control for insects’ approach offers a potential solution. As with any new technology, there are important questions to be discussed, and we are always happy to listen and respond to those questions. Today’s meeting, together with the number of local community meetings that we have participated in, has provided a useful forum for us to do just that.”
Dengue Fever is a growing global health challenge, infecting between 50-100 million people every year. The incidence and severity of this disease has increased steadily in the Americas and the Caribbean during recent years. During 2011, Panama registered 3,882 Dengue cases which resulted in 16 deaths and large expenses for the public health sector.
Néstor Sosa, Director of the Gorgas Commemorative Institute for Health Studies (GCIHS), said:
“Available information suggests that the Oxitec approach is an effective and safe tool for mosquito control. Therefore the GCIHS, in collaboration with the British company Oxitec Ltd, have initiated the process required to study the genetically modified mosquitoes in Panama.”
Notes to editors:
A joint release from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, The Gorgas Memorial Institute for Health Studies and the University of Panama
About Oxitec (www.oxitec.com)
Oxitec is developing and commercialising an effective and environment-friendly proprietary technology for the control of significant insect pests. Oxitec’s technology has the potential to make a major contribution to both global health and agriculture by combating insects responsible for serious diseases such as Dengue Fever as well as agricultural damage. The proprietary technology builds on inventions from the University of Oxford and employs genetics and molecular biology to enhance the existing radiation based Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), and to extend the control method to a broader range of insect pests.
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Dengue is the most common mosquito-borne viral disease of humans that in recent years has become a major international public health concern. Globally, 2.5 billion people live in areas where Dengue viruses can be transmitted. The geographical spread of the mosquito vector, Aedes aegypti, has led to the global resurgence of epidemic Dengue Fever in the past 25 years and an increase in the more severe forms of the disease such as Dengue haemorrhagic fever and Dengue shock syndrome. There is neither medication nor vaccine currently available for Dengue.