• Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Nigeria: Lessons from Djibouti’s ‘friendly mosquito’ approach to knockout malaria

Stakeholders laud implementing partners over malaria elimination programme in Akwa Ibom

Nigeria continues to shoulder a heavy burden from malaria, a preventable disease that claims hundreds of thousands of lives each year. As the country grapples with tackling this persistent health crisis, a recent initiative in Djibouti offers valuable insights that could be instrumental in revamping Nigeria’s own anti-malaria strategy.

Djibouti, a nation on the Horn of Africa, has embarked on a pilot program using genetically modified (GMO) mosquitoes to curb the spread of malaria. Djibouti released tens of thousands of genetically modified (GMO) mosquitoes in a targeted attack against malaria. The innovative project, spearheaded by a public-private partnership between Oxitec, Ltd., the Djiboutian government, and Association Mutualis, aims to curb the resurgence of a dangerous mosquito species and significantly reduce malaria transmission.

The released mosquitoes are a special breed of male Anopheles stephensi, a highly adaptable mosquito responsible for a recent surge in malaria cases. Developed by Oxitec, a UK-based biotechnology firm, these “friendly” mosquitoes carry a self-limiting gene that prevents their female offspring from reaching adulthood. Since only female mosquitoes bite and transmit malaria, this technology disrupts the mosquito population’s reproductive cycle, ultimately leading to a decline in the overall population.

This innovative approach holds immense potential for Nigeria, and here are 7 key takeaways the country can glean from Djibouti’s experience:

1. Targeting the culprit: Djibouti’s program specifically targets the Anopheles stephensi mosquito, a particularly aggressive and insecticide-resistant species. Nigeria can emulate this approach by identifying the dominant malaria-transmitting mosquito species in different regions and tailor interventions accordingly.

2. Embracing innovation: For decades, malaria control has relied heavily on traditional methods like insecticide-treated bed nets and indoor residual spraying. Djibouti’s use of GMO mosquitoes demonstrates a willingness to explore new avenues. The country should actively explore and invest in promising new technologies like these.

3. Public-private partnerships: The success of Djibouti’s program hinges on a strong collaboration between the government, a private biotechnology firm (Oxitec), and a local NGO (Association Mutualis). Nigeria can learn from this model by fostering partnerships between public health agencies, research institutions, and the private sector to leverage combined resources and expertise.

4. Prioritizing safety: The use of GMOs often sparks public concern. Djibouti’s program emphasizes rigorous safety protocols and transparent communication, addressing these concerns head-on. Nigeria must prioritize similar transparency and engage in open dialogue with stakeholders to build public trust in such interventions.

5. Adapting to local context: Djibouti’s compact size and predominantly urban population make it a suitable testing ground for the GMO mosquito project. Nigeria, with its vast geographical diversity and mix of rural and urban settings, will need to adapt the approach to its unique context.

6. Building on success: Djibouti’s initial release is a pilot phase, with plans for larger trials contingent on success. Nigeria can adopt a similar staged approach, starting with controlled trials in specific regions before scaling up if results are positive.

7. A stepping stone, not a silver bullet: The GMO mosquito project is a promising weapon, but not a standalone solution. Nigeria should integrate it with existing control methods like insecticide spraying and bed nets to create a multi-pronged attack on malaria.