Image courtesy of Target Malaria

A new study published in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases provides guidance for responsibly carrying out community and other stakeholder engagement activities to inform the development of area-wide vector control methods. According to the authors, “instrumental motivations and/or legal requirements should not be the sole basis for engagement. Engagement should be conceived of as a worthwhile pursuit in and of itself beyond the need to satisfy formal requirements”.

World Malaria DayWritten by Brian Tarimo, Ifakara Health Institute.

As another World Malaria Day starts, this year’s theme could not have been more meaningful to me. “Zero Malaria Starts with Me” calls on all of us to fully participate in whatever capacity we can in the fight against malaria.

When I was 9 years old my mother suffered from cerebral malaria. Many years later, my wife (then fiancé) was hospitalized, and I too have had it several times in my life. We all recovered thanks to the countless efforts by the medical teams who attended to us. But a question that still lingers in my mind is how many 9-year-old children, and countless other people, have lost a loved one; a parent, a partner, a sibling, a colleague or a friend to this disease?

According to a recent study published by the journal PLOS ONE, eradicating invasive mammals from islands could save over 9% of the world’s island vertebrates in danger of extinction. Eradicating invasive species, particularly cats and rats, is an effective conservation tool – “more than 1,200 invasive mammal eradications have been attempted on islands worldwide, with an average success rate of 85%” on native species recovery.

Invasive species are the second greatest cause of plant and animal species loss globally. Their impact on islands is particularly threatening, due to the highest concentration of both biodiversity and species extinctions in these regions. Although representing just over 5% of Earth’s territories, islands have been the habitat of approximately 75% of extinct species since 1500 (Tershy et al. 2015).

Governments and the UN have started the complex process of defining the new international framework for biodiversity post-2020. The result will set the level of ambition for actions by countries and other stakeholders to reduce biodiversity loss and protect our planet – for at least the next decade. As part of this process, the UN is holding several regional consultations.

African governments and stakeholders got together to discuss their priorities in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), providing inputs and recommendations in several areas, including the structure, goals and targets for the next global biodiversity plan. Discussions also covered financing and technical and scientific cooperation. Even though synthetic biology was not extensively discussed in the main plenary, it featured in the group sessions, as an important field of innovation. Some participants cited the need for Africa to develop its own crop of scientists and experts who can guide the continent in issues relating to biotechnology and biosafety and help develop technologies for the continent.

Malaria still kills one child every two minutes and it is estimated to cost the African economy more than US$12 billion every year (Target Malaria 2016). Current control methods such as insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor spraying of insecticides, and artemisinin-based drug treatments have saved millions of lives. However, insufficient resources, emerging insecticide resistance among mosquitoes, and challenging distribution conditions limit their ability to end malaria alone.

Scientists are studying complementary tools to fight this vector-borne disease. These include genetically modified mosquitoes, a technology still under development. Before releasing any modified mosquitoes, it is necessary to understand their potential impact on the environment, the conditions that can affect their spread and the gene drive mechanism.