The Eliminate Dengue Program is developing an approach to fighting mosquito-transmitted diseases by using naturally occurring bacteria that reduce the ability of mosquitoes to transmit harmful human viruses such as dengue fever.

The bacterium, called Wolbachia, is a natural bacterium that is present in several different insect species and is safe for humans, animals and the environment. However, when the bacterium is introduced to the Aedes aegypti mosquito, it stops viruses from growing inside the mosquito and from transmitting to people. Mosquitoes cause millions of deaths every year. The Aedes aegypti mosquito is responsible for the spread of several diseases such as dengue fever, chikungunya, yellow fever and Zika.

Since 2011, the Eliminate Dengue Program has been conducting trials in dengue-affected areas such as Australia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brazil, Columbia and India. The trails include the release of Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes that breed with wild mosquitoes, establishing the bacteria in the wild mosquito population. Wolbachia can sustain itself in mosquito populations, making this method sustainable and cost-effective in the long-term. The program is targeted to cost U.S. $1 per person. This distinguishes the program from other similar initiatives like the Oxitec program.

Oxitec developed genetically modified male mosquitoes that have a gene preventing offspring from surviving to maturity. The aim is to reduce the mosquito population. This is a more expensive approach because a huge number of mosquitoes have to be released continuously.

In 2016, the Eliminate Dengue Program received additional funding to roll out the program in large areas of Brazil and Colombia to stop the spread of the Zika outbreak. The program is funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Brazilian, U.K. and U.S. governments. The World Health Organization also called for large-scale pilot studies of the Wolbachia mosquito-control method to establish its effectiveness in fighting mosquito-transmitted diseases in humans.

The possibility exists that this approach might provide a similar result in the Anopheles mosquitoes that spread malaria.

Helena Kamper

Photo: Flickr

religious organizations
For a long time faith-based organizations have played an important role in foreign aid. One of the great advantages brought by these organizations is their ability to connect their congregations in developing countries with their counterparts in industrialized nations. But is there really a difference between the contributions of secular versus religious organizations with regard to foreign aid?

Partnerships with faith-based organizations based in countries affected by poverty, natural disasters and other crises has been key in providing access for development agencies and NGOs in these countries. Some would even argue that without faith-based organizations the flow of aid would be halted to a minimum. This argument is supported by the notion that religious individuals or groups find it much easier to translate compassion into action.

However, this argument loses some of its strength if we consider aid not as a charity, but as an investment. What is more, there are certainly large secular organizations such as Doctors without Borders or Oxfam that have made a huge impact on poverty alleviation.

There is certainly a premise within religious indoctrination that drives to donate for charitable causes. It is even specifically included in the various religious customs and traditions. However, this does not necessarily mean that there would be no aid without faith-based organization.

According to Fiona Fox, founding director of the independent press office Science Media Centre, to improve people’s lives is as much the mission of science as it is of religion. There are countless individuals and groups who do not abide by any religion, and who work arduously to fight hunger and poverty.

In fact, an expanded definition of aid which includes the work of institutes such a the Welcome Trust and the Medical Research Centre dedicated to finding solutions to many health problems in the developing world shows that faith-based organizations do not stand alone in fighting the human plight.

It is difficult to support the idea that there would be no aid without religious organizations. However, it would also be unfair to assume that these organizations do not do their fair share of the work. In the end, it should not matter how much is contributed by a faith-based versus a secular organization, but taking note of the real impact and what kind of results are being generated by both.

– Sahar Abi Hassan

Sources: Center for American Progress, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2
Photo: opbronx