1. What does the World Mosquito Program do?
The World Mosquito Program (WMP) is a not-for-profit initiative that works to protect the global community from mosquito-borne diseases. The WMP uses safe and natural bacteria called Wolbachia to reduce the ability of mosquitoes to transmit viruses such as Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.
The WMP is committed to strengthening the capacity of local communities around the world to reduce the threat of mosquito-borne diseases. We are expanding our method for low-cost, large-scale application across urban areas in countries affected by mosquito-borne diseases. We are collaborating with local communities, governments and health agencies to implement our self-sustaining Wolbachia method.
Learn more about our work here.
2. How does the World Mosquito Program's Wolbachia method work?
The WMP’s method works by introducing Wolbachia into Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the primary vector of the Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever viruses. We release Wolbachia carrying mosquitoes in areas where these mosquito-borne viruses are endemic. Once our Wolbachia mosquitoes are released, they breed with wild mosquitoes. Over time, the percentage of mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia grows until it remains high without the need for further releases.
Learn more about our Wolbachia method here.
3. Where is the World Mosquito Program working?
The World Mosquito Program is currently operating in 12 countries around the world – including Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Vietnam, Kiribati, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Mexico.
The WMP is expanding its method for low-cost, large-scale application across urban areas in countries affected by mosquito-borne diseases. We are collaborating with local communities, governments and health agencies to implement our self-sustaining, long-term solution.
Learn more about our projects here.
4. Does the World Mosquito Program's approach involve genetic modification?
Our method is not genetic modification (GM) as the genetic material of the mosquito has not been altered. Neither the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes nor the Wolbachia have been genetically modified in the lab and the strain of Wolbachia we are using is naturally occurring bacteria.
5. Which diseases does the World Mosquito Program's Wolbachia method have an effect on?
The World Mosquito Program's Wolbachia method has been shown to reduce transmission of several viruses transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, including dengue, Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever.
For further information, read our latest research studies here.
6. Can you provide some background on each of the diseases that the World Mosquito Program's Wolbachia method works to eradicate?
Zika, dengue and chikungunya are human viruses which are transmitted primarily by the mosquito Aedes aegypti, which is commonly found around homes and workplaces. The transmission cycle for these viruses is human - mosquito - human. When mosquitoes carry Wolbachia, they have a reduced ability to transmit these viruses.
On February 1 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Zika has continued to spread geographically where Aedes mosquitoes are present, with 84 countries reporting infections. Since 2015, more than ½ million suspected cases of Zika have been reported, with 3,521 recorded cases of congenital brain abnormalities associated with Zika. There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika virus, other than rest and treating fever with common medicines.
Read more about Zika here.
Dengue fever is ranked by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the most critical mosquito-borne viral disease in the world - and the most rapidly spreading - with a 30-fold increase in global incidence over the past 50 years. More than 40 percent of the world’s population, in more than 100 countries are at risk of dengue infection. The most significant dengue epidemics in recent years have occurred in Southeast Asia, the Americas and the Western Pacific. Each year, an estimated 390 million dengue infections occur around the world. Of these, 500,000 cases develop into dengue haemorrhagic fever, a more severe form of the disease, which results in up to 25,000 deaths annually worldwide.
Read more about dengue here.
First identified in an outbreak in Tanzania in 1952, chikungunya is a mosquito-borne disease transmitted between humans by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Chikungunya’s name is derived from a word in the Kimakonde language, meaning ‘to become contorted’, as the virus causes debilitating joint pain that induces a stooped appearance. Chikungunya is most prevalent in Asia, Africa and India. However, in 2015, there was a large outbreak across the Americas, with over 1,379,788 suspected cases of chikungunya recorded in the Caribbean Islands, Latin America, and the United States of America. More than 190 deaths were also attributed to this disease during the same period.
Read more about chikungunya here.
Yellow fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes. The virus is endemic in 47 countries across Africa and Latin America. According to the World Health Organisation and Pan American Health Organisation, yellow fever causes 200,000 infections and 30,000 deaths annually. Thirteen countries in the Americas are considered to be at highest risk for yellow fever outbreaks, including Brazil and Colombia, where we work. While the urban transmission of yellow fever by Aedes aegypti has not been reported in Brazil since 1942, the risk of re-urbanisation of the disease remains, as these mosquitoes are found in most tropical and subtropical cities in the world and have been the main carrier of yellow fever in the past.
Read more about yellow fever here.
7. How does the World Mosquito Program's approach compare to other solutions in development?
There are several different approaches to reducing dengue that are at various stages of development around the world. One of these is a dengue vaccine, which is being explored by a number of research groups and organisations. Other methods that are under development include new insecticides and new methods of applying existing insecticides. Other groups are also exploring ways to genetically modify mosquitoes to control their breeding and reduce the mosquito population through suppression approaches.
Our approach is self-sustaining and predicted to have lasting, major reductions in arboviral disease incidence. In contrast, the suppression approach requires significant infrastructure to rear large numbers of male mosquitoes and human resources to distribute them in the community - this must be done continuously, otherwise the wild mosquito population rebounds. There is no evidence yet that suppression approaches can reduce mosquito populations at a large scale (ie. the level of a city), or that this approach can reduce disease incidence. The World Mosquito Program's approach however, can be scaled to the level of large towns and cities.
The WMP’s approach is a natural method to reduce the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases, which we hope will reduce our reliance on insecticides. Our method does not involve genetic modification (GM), as the genetic material of the mosquito has not been altered. Our approach is particularly effective at controlling mosquito-borne diseases in large urban areas where conventional approaches – such as spraying insecticides – are often ineffective and expensive.
The unique advantage of the WMP’s Wolbachia method is that in addition to helping to protect communities from mosquito-borne diseases like Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever, we are not posing a risk to natural ecosystems. Long-term monitoring shows that the WMP’s natural Wolbachia method is self-sustaining in almost all international project sites up to eight years after our teams carry out releases.
8. You say that the World Mosquito Program's Wolbachia method will be more economical and sustainable than other methods. Why is that?
The World Mosquito Program is implementing a self-sustaining, cost-effective form of vector control, without needing to continually suppress the mosquito population. In contrast to insecticide based programs, or the use of Wolbachia for population suppression, our method has the potential to offer sustained protection from disease regardless of the number of mosquitoes present in the environment.
The WMP is not trying to reduce the overall number of mosquitoes, instead we aim to boost the number of Wolbachia carrying mosquitoes to reduce their ability to transmit diseases. We release a small number of male and female mosquitoes with Wolbachia over a number of weeks and these mosquitoes then mate with the wild mosquito population. The bacteria are passed from generation to generation, and over time, the percentage of mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia grows until it remains high without need for further releases. Mosquitoes with Wolbachia are less able to transmit viruses to people, so the risk of outbreaks in those areas is reduced.
The WMP’s research has shown that Wolbachia can sustain itself in mosquito populations without continual reapplication, making this a long-term, cost-effective and self-sustaining approach. We are currently adapting our approach for use in large, urban environments and targeting a cost of US$1 per person.
9. Will the World Mosquito Program's Wolbachia method be effective in the long-term?
It is very difficult to predict how long the Wolbachia method of control will be effective. We could imagine that over time the method might become less effective but we have no way to predict how quickly that might happen. Even if the method lasted for a number of decades then that would equate to a large benefit in the global fight to control mosquito-borne diseases.
The possibility of effective, but transient control should not be seen as a negative attribute of this technology. Many control measures become less effective over time. For example, many insect pests have shown increasing resistance to chemical insecticides. Yet, these tools have been incredibly valuable in saving human lives from major diseases such as dengue and malaria.