The challenges characterizing the large-scale rollout of the Wolbachia Method were analyzed by a group of scientists in a meeting at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ), organized by the World Mosquito Program (WMP), a global initiative to fight mosquito-borne diseases. The meeting, held on May 17-18 at the headquarters of the Foundation for Scientific and Technological Development in Health (FIOTEC) in Rio de Janeiro, convened Brazilian and foreign researchers in addition to the global leaders of the WMP.
The method consists of releasing into the environment Aedes aegypti mosquitos with Wolbachia, which have reduced capacity to transmit dengue, Zika, and chikungunya. Breeding with wild mosquitos gives rise to a new generation of Aedes aegypti which also has reduced capacity to transmit these diseases.
The meeting featured discussions on the enhancement of the production and release of mosquitos, for example a more appropriate diet for rearing better mosquitos and the efficiency of different ways of releasing Aedes aegypti with Wolbachia. The meeting also debated the method’s monitoring and epidemiological assessment. “There are questions to be answered, and that is why we invited the scientists to contribute their points of view. We are at a stage of optimizing various aspects of the method,” said Professor Scott O’Neil, Director of the WMP.
The Wolbachia Method is present in 12 countries in Asia, the Americas, and the Pacific Islands, besides the pioneering program in Australia, with the support of local governments. In Brazil, the WMP has the support of the Ministry of Health and is led by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ). The city of Rio de Janeiro, due to its geographic and social characteristics, is considered one of the most complex locations in which the WMP operates.
The proposals resulting from the meeting will be included in a memorandum of understanding among the participants for a feasibility assessment of the method’s application in the countries where WMP works. "During these two days we had the opportunity for a detailed debate on the different processes comprising the Wolbachia Method. Our idea is that in terms of cost, the method’s rollout will mean a savings in the long term for governments, compared to what is spent on treatment of patients with arbovirus infections, besides the consequences like work absenteeism and sequelae," explained Luciano Moreira, head researcher of the WMP in Brazil.
Before the scientific meeting, supporters from the Brazilian Ministry of Health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the Scientific Advisory Committee for WMP in Brazil, the Municipal Health Departments of Rio de Janeiro, Niterói, and Belo Horizonte, and the Ceará State Health Department were updated on progress with the WMP in Brazil.
The Australian Ambassador to Brazil, John Richardson, participated in the meeting and expressed his enthusiasm for the Wolbachia Method. “The World Mosquito Program in Brazil has the potential to turn the tables and make a huge difference for the local population by reducing diseases. It is an example of scientific collaboration between Brazil and Australia, which has grown exponentially,” he observed.
According to FIOCRUZ President Nísia Trindade Lima, who also participated in the meeting, “This is a crucial moment for achieving the method’s application in the city of Rio de Janeiro, which offers the possibility of scale in order to demonstrate the result.” The researcher also highlighted that this is an initiative with a technological focus that is supported by basic care, since it counts on the work of community health agents in the city of Rio de Janeiro and Niterói.