In keeping with this year's World Malaria Day theme of “Harnessing innovation to reduce the malaria disease burden”, the Rollins School of Public Health and The Carter Center co-hosted a free virtual symposium that provided an insight into the advancements and possibilities offered by using gene drive mosquitoes to accelerate the elimination of malaria and other mosquito-transmitted diseases. A wide variety of guest speakers, from scientists to health officials from malaria-endemic countries and beyond, gathered at the symposium to examine challenges surrounding the potential integration of these new technologies into malaria control programs. Overall, the event offered an insight into the growing interest in gene drive technologies to contribute to the fight against malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases.
Representatives from several organizations such as IEPI-McMaster University, John Hopkins University, the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH), and the University of Nairobi covered a range of topics related to gene drives for malaria control, such as a historical perspective of biomedical technologies to eliminate malaria, or a deeper examination of malaria-eliminating initiatives in the Dominican Republic. By offering a multi-pronged approach to the topic, the symposium put forward the possibility of gene drive as a crucial new tool in the fight against malaria and other insect-borne diseases.
While the event painted an objective portrait of the technology and its current limitations, some additional sessions indicated a strong interest in further research and development of gene drives as well as in laying the groundwork for their potential implementation with key stakeholders. All speakers agreed that, with effective regulation and capacity-building to support their development, gene drive technologies could become a significant part of the malaria elimination toolkit.
Such discussions come at a crucial moment in the fight against the disease. According to the World Malaria Report 2021, 78 countries showed mosquito resistance to at least 1 of the 4 commonly used insecticide classes. The World Health Organisation (WHO) also reported high treatment failure rates due to increasing drug resistance on the African continent and beyond.