By Delphine Thizy, Coordinator of the francophone working group at the RBM Partnership to End Malaria and Stakeholder Engagement Senior Adviser at Target Malaria

Twenty years ago, The Global Fund was created to fight what were then the world's deadliest infectious diseases: HIV, tuberculosis (TB), and malaria. Since then, the partnership has invested more than US$55 billion, saving over 50 million lives and cutting the combined death rate from the three diseases by more than half in the countries where it invests. Ahead of its Seventh Replenishment cycle, The Global Fund is calling on the world to mobilize US$18 billion to save 20 million lives. Reaching this target will mean reducing malaria cases by 66% by 2026.

Photograph: The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria 

Even before the world was shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic, progress against malaria had stalled. Although the worst-case scenario projected by the World Health Organization (WHO) was avoided, according to the 2021 World malaria report, there were still an estimated 241 million malaria cases and 627 000 malaria deaths worldwide in 2020, with over 96% of these deaths occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa. Now more than ever, it is crucial that we mobilize to ensure The Global Fund’s replenishment target is met and that we can address this challenge.

By Carolina Torres Trueba, International Legal and Administrative Manager, Island Conservation

Islands are a focal point in the global biodiversity crisis. Despite making up only 5 percent of the planet, they have seen 61 percent of all recorded extinctions since the 1500s and are home to 40 percent of all vertebrates that are currently considered to be critically endangered. The human introduction of invasive animals to islands — particularly mammals like rats, cats, and goats —has had devastating consequences, including the extinction of local species and extensive habitat damage.

Juvenile Antipodean Albatross in the Antipodes Islands. Photograph: Island Conservation

A new paper released by Island Conservation and colleagues across the globe, titled "The Global Contribution of Invasive Vertebrate Eradication as a Key Island Restoration Tool", shows that eliminating invasive species from islands is one of the most effective tools to halt and reverse biodiversity loss in these areas. The paper is the first compilation of all documented pest eradications on islands around the world. The Database of Island Invasive Species Eradications (DIISE), a publicly available dataset, was used to compile almost one hundred years' worth of attempts to eradicate invasive vertebrates from nearly one thousand islands. The investigation discovered an 88 percent success rate, revealing the impact and potential of invasive species eradication as a tool for biodiversity conservation.

Why is risk assessment important for gene drive? As gene drive technologies move closer to potential field evaluations, it is important that they be responsibly assessed to make sure they can be used safely and efficiently. The purpose of the risk assessment process is to identify potential pathways to harm that could lead to adverse health or environment impacts, and thus implement suitable measures that can eliminate or mitigate risks.

In collaboration with the Outreach Network for Gene Drive Research, the ISAAA SEAsia Center published a new policy brief entitled Risk Assessment for Gene Drive Organisms. The policy brief was developed following the Key Considerations for Risk Assessment of Gene Drive Technologies webinar, the second in the 2022 Gene Drive Webinar Series led by the Outreach Network for Gene Drive Research and the ISAAA SEAsia Center. It provides an overview of the appropriateness of current guidelines, best practices, and gaps in the processes through which gene drive technologies are being developed and assessed.

The upcoming GeneConvene and TReND course “Gene Editing: Theory and Practice” is a unique opportunity to learn more about how gene editing technologies work and their potential applications in Africa.

The event will take place from October 31 to November 12, 2022, at the Midlands State University in Gweru, Zimbabwe. Bringing together researchers from Africa and beyond, the course will be an opportunity for trainees to meet with experts who work towards the development of gene editing technologies for a variety of different applications.

The course is split into two phases. The first part is a theoretical introduction into genome editing and its applications in Africa. This will be followed by a practical course on molecular biology, genome editing and their applications in various model systems (zebrafish, fruit flies, and mosquitoes). The course aims to provide participants with the knowledge to successfully perform genetic manipulations related to their research. The faculty for this course will include Dr Tony Nolan (Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine), Dr Hind Abushama (University of Karthoum) and Dr David O’Brochta (Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH)), among many others.

African scientists, from Master students to Heads of Department, are invited to send in their applications by August 31 (midnight GMT). There is no fee for the course and attendees will receive a grant to cover their transport and accommodation costs in full.

Visit the event website for more information.

By Dr Omar Akbari, The Akbari Lab, UC San Diego

Every year on August 20, World Mosquito Day is commemorated to increase public awareness of the potentially life-threatening diseases spread by mosquitoes, and the steps that may be taken to prevent them. The day was originated in 1897 by Dr Ronald Ross of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. During a dissection, Ross discovered the malaria parasite in the stomach walls of a female mosquito, leading him to declare the first World Mosquito Day as an opportunity to raise awareness of the link between mosquitoes and malaria.

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are the main vector of several major pathogens including yellow fever, dengue, and Zika viruses.  

Mosquitoes are perhaps the most dangerous animals in the world. They are the primary vectors for major human diseases such as yellow fever, Zika, dengue fever, and malaria. Mosquito-borne illnesses infect almost 700 million people every year, resulting in thousands of deaths. These diseases disproportionately affect the poorest populations and are most prevalent in tropical and subtropical regions. In the last decade, numerous countries have experienced major outbreaks which have affected populations, claimed lives, and taxed health systems. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also raised concerns about insecticide-resistant mosquitoes and drug-resistant malaria parasites emerging, which could further thwart efforts to stop the spread of these deadly diseases.

World Mosquito Day provides an opportunity to acknowledge the progress made in the fight against mosquito-borne diseases so far and raise awareness of the challenges they still pose worldwide. Although useful, current approaches are not enough to curb the expansion of vector-borne illnesses, once again on the rise in the last few years.

At The Akbari Lab, we are investigating the potential of new technologies to help control the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, such as malaria or dengue. Our research focuses on understanding the fundamental genetics and physiology of mosquitoes with the objective of developing novel, inventive, and creative genetic control technologies to lessen the burden of human diseases brought on by mosquitoes.

Investigating Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the lab.  

Due to factors such as climate change, disease-carrying mosquitoes are spreading. Southern California, for example, where our lab is located, has become a new breeding ground for non-native Aedes mosquitoes since 2001. This further raises concerns about the spread of mosquito-borne diseases in regions with historically low infections rates. How mosquito populations are evolving and the potential for future epidemics - or even pandemics - spread by these tiny killers beckons further investigation.

If we are to successfully control mosquito-borne diseases and address existing challenges in the fight towards their elimination, we must invest in more creative preventative solutions and treatments as well as new technologies to add to our current toolbox of interventions.

Happy World Mosquito Day!