Outbreaks of dengue, Zika, and chikungunya have been increasing over the last decade. Each year, an estimated 390 million people are infected with the dengue virus, and over half the world’s population – nearly 4 billion people living in tropical and subtropical regions – are vulnerable to infection.
The World Mosquito Program project is trialling the introduction of Wolbachia bacteria to mosquitoes that transmit dengue and other arboviruses.
DFAT supports the World Mosquito Program (WMP) to trial the use of Wolbachia bacteria to reduce the transmission of the dengue virus, as well as other arboviruses including Zika and chikungunya, in several countries in the Pacific (Fiji, Kiribati, and Vanuatu) and Southeast Asia (Sri Lanka, Indonesia). WMP is a not-for-profit initiative that works to protect the global community from mosquito-borne diseases in 12 countries, with regional hubs located in Melbourne at Monash University (Oceania hub) and Ho Chi Minh City (Asia hub).
In addition to DFAT, WMP is supported by a range of government, corporate, and philanthropic donors, notably the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust which in August 2018 awarded WMP A$50 million.
How does it work?
Wolbachia is a naturally occurring bacterium that exists in up to 60% of insect species, including some mosquito species. However, Wolbachia is not usually found in the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the primary species responsible for transmitting human viruses such as dengue, Zika, and chikungunya. Research conducted by WMP suggests that Wolbachia can help to reduce the transmission of these viruses to humans.
WMP introduces Wolbachia into Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the laboratory before conducting controlled releases of these mosquitoes into the wild. These Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes then breed with the wild mosquito population, passing the Wolbachia to their offspring and subsequent generations. Over time, the proportion of mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia grows until it remains high without the need for further releases.
- Listen to the Contain This Podcast with Professor Adi Utarini and Professor Scott O'Neill on the Yogyajakarta dengue trial.