How the World Mosquito Program Tackles Mosquito-Borne Diseases

Mosquito-Borne DiseasesMosquitoes, a group of approximately 3,500 species found in every continent except Antarctica, are infamous for spreading diseases through their bites to humans, making them one of the most hated insects. These diseases cause significant global issues, with approximately 700,000 people dying yearly from mosquito-borne diseases.

Some common diseases affecting humans include Dengue, Yellow fever, Zika and Chikungunya; all viral diseases capable of causing debilitating symptoms and, in severe cases, death. At any moment, an estimated 3.9 billion people are susceptible to Dengue fever globally, with 96 million cases reported yearly. In response to these prevalent and dangerous diseases, one NGO, The World Mosquito Program, has decided to take action. 

The World Mosquito Program employs different strategies to combat diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, with the goal of protecting millions of people from these deadly illnesses. 

The Potential of Wolbachia

The World Mosquito Program has adopted an innovative scientific method to decrease the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses. This method involves using Wolbachia, a common bacterium found in more than 50% of insect species. The charity is utilizing this bacterium to reduce the prevalence of diseases transmitted by mosquitoes. Wolbachia outcompetes harmful viruses like Dengue, leading to a decreased probability of mosquito bites spreading illnesses to humans.

Over time, releasing Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes leads to their mating with the native population, passing Wolbachia onto the next generation. As a result, this significantly decreases the chances of native mosquitoes carrying life-threatening illnesses in a local area, allowing those surrounding it to live free of fear of mosquito-borne illness.

The best part is that Wolbachia has no negative impact on human lives and using it does not tamper with the ecosystem where Anopheles mosquitoes occur.

This revolutionary method has undergone trials globally, leading to highly promising results. In Cairns, Australia, the first-ever introduction of Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes led to such a low incidence of Dengue fever that the area is now considered a Dengue-free zone. The charity has already released these mosquitoes in 10 countries, with Laos and New Caledonia in line to join shortly. effectively protecting approximately 10 million people from diseases like Dengue and Zika, with plans to help even more in the coming years.

Empowering and Listening to Communities

While the World Mosquito Program primarily operates on scientific initiatives, it recognizes the importance of community cooperation. The charity strives to build connections with the local communities in which it operates, hosting meetings where it can explain methods and answer any questions people may have. 

The World Mosquito Program adheres to a strict ethical policy that involves gaining community approval before releasing Wolbachia mosquitoes, engaging communities wholeheartedly to help them understand the overall benefits of the program.

In addition to being open to local communities, the World Mosquito Program also actively encourages the public to participate in its work. The organization offers opportunities for people to grow mosquitoes in their gardens, which can then be released, significantly aiding their efforts. Community members are also given the option to host bug traps, which the World Mosquito Program can use for long-term monitoring and making improvements.

The World Mosquito Program’s intent to involve local community groups, health officials and the general public in its research demonstrates its transparency as an organization, as many people might not initially understand how releasing more mosquitoes would help address the issue. However, with the implementation of local education programs and Q&A-type sessions, the public can easily understand and support the organization’s work.

Partnerships With Global Organizations

As a charitable non-government organization, the World Mosquito Program values the importance of cooperation between themselves and health officials, other charities and global governments. Therefore, when it extends its projects, it prioritizes reaching out to leaders for backing and funding.

To date, many well-known charities have funded the World Mosquito Program’s crucial work, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Save the Children and USAID. This funding has facilitated mosquito releases, local education programs and crucial research efforts. Since 2010, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has contributed AUD$185 million to the World Mosquito program to continue its work.

In addition to funding, the World Mosquito Program collaborates with charities and governments to implement its methods on a large scale. The organization operates in close collaboration with the governments of the 12 countries it aids, seeking endorsement from global health authorities.

The program also has strong ties with the Australian government, working globally on projects not only in Australia but also in Fiji, Indonesia, Kiribati, Sri Lanka and Vanuatu. Over the years, the Australian government has given the organization AUS$ 14.5 million, enabling crucial research and the spread of Wolbachia mosquitoes.

Looking Ahead

The World Mosquito Program’s innovative approach using Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes shows great promise in combatting mosquito-borne diseases. With successful trials in various countries, including Cairns, Australia, where Dengue fever incidence was drastically reduced, the program aims to protect millions from these deadly illnesses. The organization’s focus on community engagement and partnerships with global entities demonstrates a transparent and collaborative approach to achieving its mission, paving the way for a brighter, healthier future in the fight against mosquito-borne diseases.

– Annabel Kartal-Allen
Photo: Flickr