The has announced funding totaling $18 million from , the government of the United Kingdom, the , and the to combat Zika and other mosquito-borne viruses in Colombia and Brazil.
The funding will be used to scale a mosquito-control method using Wolbachia, a bacteria that occurs naturally in 60 percent of all insect species but not in Aedes aegypti, the mosquito species primarily responsible for the transmission of diseases such as Zika, dengue fever, chikungunya, and yellow fever. EDP, a nonprofit research collaboration led by in Australia as part of the , has shown that introducing Wolbachia to Aedes aegypti mosquitos renders them incapable of transmitting viruses. And when Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes are released into the wild, they breed with local mosquitoes and pass the bacteria to their offspring, creating a beneficial self-sustaining effect without the need for further releases. Starting in early 2017, EDP will expand, with additional funding of $3.7 million from the Brazilian Ministry of Health, its field trials in the Rio de Janeiro area as well as Bello, Colombia, and other parts of the Antioquia region as part of its ongoing partnership with the in Brazil.
"We are incredibly grateful to our funding partners for enabling us to expand this research across two large urban areas vulnerable to mosquito-transmitted disease," said Scott O'Neill, leader of the Eliminate Dengue Program. "The Gates Foundation and Wellcome have supported our work since 2005 and their ongoing commitment, along with new donors, to reducing the spread of mosquito-borne viruses is pivotal to us moving from small-scale trials to city-wide deployment."
"Zika remains a very serious public health concern, especially with further global spread and reports of active transmission in Southeast Asia," said Mike Turner, acting director of science and head of infection and immuno-biology at the Wellcome Trust. Using Wolbachia to reduce the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases has the potential to greatly reduce the global health burden and socioeconomic cost of Zika and other related infections like dengue and yellow fever. This research is essential as it will help measure the health impact of the Wolbachia method in large urban areas, where these kinds of outbreaks can have such a devastating effect."