Public to learn more about sterilised mosquitoes as of next month

Public to learn more about sterilised mosquitoes as of next month

Saturday, December 14, 2019

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NEGRIL, Westmoreland — The Ministry of Health and Wellness will embark on a public education campaign starting next month, as part of its pilot for the Sterilise Insect Technique (SIT), which is aimed at reducing mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue.

The disclosure was made by Director of environmental Health with Special Responsibility for Dengue Everton Baker, during a Ministry of Health and Wellness town hall meeting in Negril on Thursday.

Mosquitoes are currently being bred in two separate insectories, one at The University of the West Indies and the other at the National Public Health Laboratory.

The insects are also being studied and a mapping of the country is being done to determine population concentration. The final process is to release sterilised male mosquitoes in the wild by air, utilising equipment such as drones.

Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton explained the rationale and importance behind the public education drive.

“One of the issues with breeding mosquitoes and releasing that, just as how we are accustomed to bush medicine, we going say Government a try kill we off, a send more mosquito after us. And, it only takes one troublemaker to start spreading that rumour,” said Dr Tufton.

The minister added: “So, we have to get a public education component to let Jamaicans know that, in the case of the pilot project…because we are not doing it in the entire country initially — the mapping of the country is important, where they will choose a particular community in a particular parish — we have to educate the people as to what this is all about.”

The nuclear Sterile Insect Technique is a form of insect birth control. The process involves rearing large quantities of male mosquitoes and sterilising them using radiation in dedicated facilities, and then releasing them to mate with females in the wild. Females that mate with sterile males produce no offspring, thus reducing the next generation's population.

SIT began in the 1930s, however, in a document published in Nature on July 17, 2019 it was disclosed that, for the first time, a combination of the nuclear sterile insect technique with the incompatible insect technique has led to the successful suppression of mosquito populations — a promising step in the control of mosquitoes that carry dengue, Zika virus and many other devastating diseases.

The pilot trial in Guangzhou, China, was carried out with the support of the International Atomic Energy Agency in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Baker said a team from Jamaica visited China and they were surprised to see how advanced Jamaica was in its efforts.

“We were in China recently, and it took them [China] quite a number of years to reach where they are. But, we are moving a little bit faster. They were surprised to see where we were at, based on when the minister started the initiative with the university. So we are reasonably far advanced, but we need some key things to be done, especially the public education,” argued Barker.

The ministry's sterilisation programme, which forms part of its thrust to find new ways to control the population of the vector, is being done in conjunction with the Department of Nuclear Sciences at the UWI, led by Professor Charles Grant.

The minister had first announced his intent to start the pilot project during his post-sectoral debate presentation's press briefing at Jamaica House in March of 2017.

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