FIOCRUZ held a press conference in August to announce the large-scale release of Aedes aegypti mosquitos harboring the Wolbachia bacteria in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Researcher Luciano Moreira, head of the project Eliminate Dengue: a Challenge for Brazil, recalled that the initiative began in Australia and is now present in more than 40 sites around the planet. Moreira said that the release is completely safe and that the population of the ten neighborhoods on Ilha do Governador where the mosquitos will be released has been properly informed, through visits and action by community health workers. There is no risk whatsoever to residents, since Wolbachia does not infect humans. According to the researcher, 1.6 million modified Aedes aegypti mosquitos will be released containing the bacteria, significantly reducing the spread of the mosquito that transmits dengue, Zika, and chikungunya. The strategy uses natural products in a safe and self-sustainable way, respecting all the ethical principles and validated by regulatory and oversight agencies.
Moreira stated that the release will then proceed to other neighborhoods in the North Zone of Rio and later to Downtown Rio and the South Zone, where the project scheduled to reach by late 2018, in a total area with some 2.5 million inhabitants. “The project was very well received by the population of Ilha do Governador, and this was confirmed by opinion polls we performed. Community involvement has been significant,” he commented. The large-scale release begins with the neighborhoods of Ribeira, Zumbi, Cacuia, Pitangueiras, Praia da Bandeira, Cocotá, Bancários, Freguesia, Tauá, and Moneró.
According to FIOCRUZ President Nísia Trindade Lima, “This is a special day for Rio in a special year for us, since in 2017 we are remembering the centennial of the death of our founder Oswaldo Cruz and the legacy he left us. Oswaldo Cruz, in the early 20th century, also tackled mosquito-borne diseases like yellow fever. We are still grappling with these problems more than a century later, due to the lack of sufficient environmental and sanitation policies.” Nísia said that the project is sustainable, non-profit, and serves the Unified Health System and the population. “The community’s acceptance and involvement are extremely important and a source of huge satisfaction for us.” The president recalled that the mission of FIOCRUZ is to innovate in science and technology, and that the Eliminate Dengue project is a further step in that direction.
Beatriz Busch, the Assistant Secretary of Health for the City of Rio de Janeiro, said at the press conference that the project’s expansion will have a major impact on the fight against arbovirus diseases in Rio. According to her, “The project’s acceptance by the communities involved in the initiative and the sustainability of Eliminate Dengue are noteworthy. We are really optimistic.” However, she emphasized the need for the population not to falter in the fight against Aedes aegypti, taking proper care of their homes by eliminating the mosquito’s breeding places and adopting all the necessary precautions.
Following the press conference at the FIOCRUZ Castle, mosquitos with Wolbachia were released at the Wilma Costa Family Clinic in the neighborhood of Cocotá on Ilha do Governador in Rio. Community health workers Luis Antônio de Oliveira and Gracileide Pereira Mota opened the first container to release the mosquitos.
After the first release, Oliveira emphasized the importance of community health workers in the prevention of mosquito-borne diseases. “Besides releasing mosquitos with Wolbachia, a project that has worked, it is extremely important to maintain the precautionary measures: empty water out of car tires, keep the neighborhood clean, and weed the yards.”
According to Gracileide, the community health workers’ close contact with the population facilitates the project’s acceptance. “The local residents accepted the idea easily after we explained the mosquito release.”
“Ilha do Governador was the area of Rio most heavily affected by the dengue epidemic [in 2015]. So when FIOCRUZ announced the possibility of a new ally in the fight against arbovirus infections, we joined the cause, realizing that the challenge is for society as a whole,” said student and local resident Luan Ferreira.