By Dr Marceline (Lina) Finda, Ifakara Health Institute

In a recent Twitter conversation hosted by Gene Convene, my colleague Dr Fredros Okumu and I were invited to share insights from our latest survey of African stakeholders focusing on gene drive approaches for malaria control.

According to the 2021 World Malaria Report, Africa continues to shoulder the heaviest malaria burden globally, with over 90% of global malaria cases and deaths recorded on the continent. Although progress has been made against the disease since 2000, this remains uneven, due to a number of different factors, including growing resistance to some of the current interventions. Transformational tools such as gene drive approaches have the potential to address some of these challenges and help speed up malaria control and elimination efforts. Researchers have been exploring the potential of gene drive applications to limit the spread of diseases, particularly those spread by insect vectors, such as malaria, for a long time.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will resume negotiations from March 14 to 29 in Geneva, Switzerland. The Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), a guiding document that sets forward an ambitious plan to halt and reverse global biodiversity loss by 2050, will be the main focus of the agenda. However, three CBD bodies are convening on this occasion: the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical And Technological Advice (SBSTTA-24), the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI-3) and the Open-Ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (WG2020-3).

February 28th to March 4th this year marks Invasive Species Awareness Week, a moment to raise awareness of the impact of invasive alien species on biodiversity and the importance of addressing this issue. According to the Convention on Biological Diversity, invasive alien species (IAS) are species whose introduction and/or spread outside their natural past or present distribution threatens biological diversity. Different organisms can be classified as IAS such as plants, animals, and microorganisms. IAS are species that can be introduced, either accidentally or intentionally, by human activities such as trade or transportation. Their introduction can have dramatic effects on ecosystems and lead to the extinction of native species.

By Dr. Lea Pare Toe, Target Malaria, Institut de Recherche en Sciences de la Santé (IRSS)

Stakeholder engagement is an essential component of gene drive research. Robust engagement is important not only because it is crucial for building and sustaining public confidence, but also because it can help define priorities and inform research design and pathways.

Malaria remains one of the leading causes of death in sub-Saharan Africa despite commitments by African Heads of State to eliminate the disease by 2030. The African Union had set a 2020 target of reducing malaria incidence and mortality by at least 40% compared to 2015 but only 15 Member States either made significant strides towards this objective or achieved it at the end of the period. Concerted efforts and new tools are urgently needed to address the threats of insecticide and drug resistance and gain further ground against the disease. At the 35th Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly on the 6th of January, H.E President Uhuru Kenyatta, Chairperson of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) presented these findings and more in the 2021 African Union Malaria Progress Report.