Every day we read about new cases of dengue and the number is rising, in spite of the heavy campaign carried out by the Ministry of Health. Dengue is a vector-borne tropical disease caused by Aedes aegypti. It can be fatal a disease as timely detection is a problem. Symptoms only appear 3-14 days after the infective bite. The symptoms are the same as any common viral disease and currently there are no specific treatments for dengue. Severe cases can cause hemorrhage. According to World Health Organization (WHO), two fifth of world population, or 2.5 billion are currently at risk of dengue. Every year there might be 50 million dengue cases globally.
Current measures taken to combat dengue have failed to reduce the population of this deadly mosquito. Fogging has not been effective and it also presents another problem where these mosquitoes become resistant to the chemical used. Fogging also only kills adult insects and not the larvae. It creates more environmental problems than being effective in reducing the population of the mosquito. The Ministry of Health is urging the public to clean the surroundings of their house and look out for mosquito breeding grounds. The effectiveness of this measure is really insignificant. As Malaysia receives rain almost every day and water can retain anywhere from flowers pots, drains, roofs, tree trunks, empty containers at landfills to just anywhere, it is just impossible to lookout for the all the possible mosquito breeding grounds.
Doing the same thing year after year and expecting a different result is certainly foolish.
Fortunately, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) approved the confined field trial for GM mosquito after many years of deliberation. This is a new approach to battle against the Aedes. The GM mosquitoes are created at Oxford University and its subsidiary, Oxitec in the UK. The Institute for Medical Research (IMR) in Malaysia is working with Oxitec on this research on mission to suppress the population of Aedes aegypti. The male mosquitoes have been sterilized and will not be able to breed. This will cause population reduction. This in fact, is not a new approach. Sterile insects have been released to the environment in the past to control the population of insect pests in the agriculture sector. Nevertheless the technique used was irradiation which the public care less about. Thanks to many GM opponents who have featured GM technology as more hazardous than irradiation!
If the field trials are successfully conducted and yield the desired results, Malaysians can heave a sigh of relief. We can shed off our label as one of the dengue prone region and remove Malaysia from the dengue global map. Unfortunately, it is not just the science that needs to be strengthened and battled but also the public attitude and concerns. Naysayers and scaremongers are hard at work to ensure this project is halted.
It frustrates to read about all the negative letters and the ONE main question: “who is behind this project and what is the benefit to them?”
Why do we readily embrace all other products that come from the industry and not GM technology? It is beyond me to comprehend the concerns of these people. Does it matter where the technology comes from as long as we are not shortchanged and it is worth every cent we spend?
I must say SYABAS to NRE, the Genetic Modification Advisory Committee (GMAC) and the National Biosafety Board for upholding scientific principles in approving this technology for field trial. This letter from NRE says it all.
If this technology is successful with Aedes, the next to be eliminated could be the vector for Malaria.
I want to end by saying “Those who want the world to continue in the same way, do not want the world to continue”
By Mahaletchumy Arujanan