The UN said Thursday it was preparing to test a sterilisation technique targeting mosquitoes that could help rein in the spread of a range of devastating diseases such as dengue and Zika.
A form of insect “birth control”, called Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), has been used for decades to control crop-killing pests like fruit flies and moths.
Now it is being evaluated in a species of mosquito as a potential key tool in halting the spread of human diseases.
“It could be really, really significant,” Florence Fouque, a scientist at the UN’s Special Programme for Reasearch and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR), told reporters. TDR has partnered with the World Health Organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to develop a pilot programme for countries interested in using SIT on mosquitoes to test its impact on disease transmission.
Fouque said a number of countries were being evaluated and that the participants should be chosen in early 2020 for tests lasting several years.
The mosquitoes targeted are species that are particularly difficult to control in the Aedes family -- including the Asian tiger mosquito -- which are a major vector for diseases including Zika, dengue and chikungunya.
Researchers have found a way to sterilise male mosquitoes using radiation, and tests have shown the technique can significantly reduce populations.
Dengue fever has exploded in recent years, with the disease now seen threatening about half of the world’s population.