The partnership will produce up to five billion disease-blocking mosquitoes each year
30 March 2023, Brasília – Fiocruz and the World Mosquito Program (WMP) today announced a new partnership that will dramatically expand access across Brazil to Wolbachia mosquitoes, a nature-based disease control method that has significantly reduced the incidence of dengue, chikungunya, and Zika in Rio de Janeiro and Niterói since the method was first deployed in those cities in 2014.
The formal partnership will build on years of collaboration between the two organisations and help protect many more Brazilians from mosquito-borne diseases using WMP’s innovative Wolbachia technology. It will also lead to the creation of a mosquito mass production facility initially capable of producing about five billion mosquito eggs annually at a rate of up to 100 million per week.
The construction and operation of the biofactory is estimated to cost US$19 million (BRL 100 million), with funds from WMP US$10 million (BRL 50 million) and the Institute of Molecular Biology of Paraná (IBMP).
In addition to this, WMP will commit up to US$10 million (BRL 50 million) with the goal to incentivise co-funding of Wolbachia deployments nationwide. This approach to public-private partnership aims to ensure more affordable and equitable access to disease prevention. SVSA will also contribute US$5.7 million (BRL 30 million).
The initial WMP resource will also function as a matching fund with the aim to encourage Brazilian companies, charities and high-net-worth individuals to invest in new technologies and to help scale up and accelerate the implementation of the Wolbachia method in specific cities or states.
The Wolbachia method received regulatory approval from ANVISA in 2022, which means that it is eligible to be purchased with federal funding or financed by national and regional development finance institutions.
“For decades, Brazil and in particular, Fiocruz, has been a global leader in pioneering innovative, high-impact solutions to infectious diseases,” said Professor Scott O’Neill, WMP’s CEO.
“We are excited to work with Fiocruz, the Ministry of Health, and other government partners to scale our proven Wolbachia method across Brazil to provide an effective and affordable way to stop dengue, chikungunya and Zika - three diseases that have been unstoppable until now.”
Professor O’Neill added that Brazil’s leadership in utilising Wolbachia nationally can provide a model for the world’s other 129 dengue-affected countries, eventually helping to expand access to the estimated four billion people worldwide who live at risk of dengue and other viruses transmitted by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.
The technology consists of introducing into mosquitoes a bacterium – called Wolbachia – that prevents them from transmitting dengue and other mosquito-borne viruses. Pioneered by scientists at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, the Wolbachia technology has already been introduced into 13 countries, protecting nearly 11 million people to date.
“The location for the construction of the biofactory is still being defined in line with the Ministry, but it is expected that the factory will start operating by the beginning of 2024,” said Fiocruz president, Mario Moreira.
“The idea, however, is that we can immediately expand the current production and supply of mosquito eggs to the Ministry of Health, and state and municipal governments, to help control arboviruses in municipalities considered more critical and with higher transmission rates of dengue, Zika and chikungunya.”
Brazil’s first releases of Wolbachia mosquitoes began in September 2014 in Rio de Janeiro. Large-scale deployments in the country followed three years later. The Wolbachia method now protects more than 3 million people in five cities across three regions – Rio de Janeiro, Niterói, Belo Horizonte, Campo Grande and Petrolina. WMP Brazil last year celebrated a key milestone: engaging more than one million people across the country.
The positive impact of Wolbachia on arbovirus transmission rates has been seen across the cities including in Niterói, where the number of dengue cases have been reduced by 76%, Chikungunya by 56% and Zika by 37%.
The Wolbachia method provides a highly cost-effective approach to disease control. Once it is established in local mosquito populations, Wolbachia is naturally passed down by female mosquitoes to their offspring, which means that Wolbachia is self-sustaining, does not need to be reapplied, and has no ongoing costs.
Within a few years of application, the method pays for itself through savings in medical costs, lost wages and productivity losses caused by absences from work or school. Over time, Wolbachia establishment delivers substantial economic benefits, saving millions of dollars in healthcare costs and improving labour productivity.
Today, Brazil has the greatest number of dengue cases in the world, with one-tenth of the global dengue burden and more than 90% of its population at risk of infection.
Brazil recorded 2.3 million dengue cases and almost 1000 dengue deaths in 2022, in the largest dengue outbreak on record. In six of the ten years 2013 - 2022 there were more than 1.4 million annual dengue cases reported in Brazil, whereas annual case numbers had never previously exceeded 1 million cases.
Since chikungunya and Zika emerged in Brazil in 2015, there have been more than 1.5 million chikungunya cases and 480,000 Zika cases reported in the country.
The joint venture will help showcase the groundbreaking production and delivery technologies WMP has been developing over the past decade. The creation of a mosquito production facility will further help implement the Wolbachia method on a national level, providing mosquito eggs to state, local and municipal governments to protect the country from mosquito-borne diseases.
"It is a great example of how the public and private sectors can effectively come together to solve a complex public health challenge that deeply affects families in Brazil and across the world,” said Kieran Walters, WMP’s Director of Global Functions and Strategy.
"This venture and the development of a world class mosquito production facility has brought together experts from Brazil, France, Canada and Australia - all working in partnership to improve the lives of others.”
WMP’s evidence-based, cost effective and one-time intervention now protects almost 11 million people, and its effectiveness for dengue control has been demonstrated in multiple public health interventions.
The WHO Vector Control Advisory Group (VCAG) has endorsed this method as having a public health impact, paving the way for a formal WHO policy recommendation. This is the first time that the VCAG has endorsed a novel product class for the control of vector-borne diseases.
Dengue is the most rapidly spreading mosquito-borne disease in the world and a threat to nearly half of the world’s population. In 2019, the World Health Organization declared dengue one of the top ten global health threats because of the absence of effective interventions.
More information about WMP’s Wolbachia method
Wolbachia – a common bacterium found in about 50 per cent of insects – is introduced in the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that transmit dengue, chikungunya, Zika and yellow fever. The Wolbachia bacterium prevents the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes from transmitting these diseases.
The Wolbachia mosquitoes are then released in areas where mosquito-borne viruses are endemic. As they breed with wild mosquitoes, the number of Wolbachia mosquitoes grows over time until it remains high without the need for further releases.
Unlike other measures against mosquito-borne diseases, the Wolbachia method is safe for people, mosquitoes and the environment, and offers a once-off, long-term and self-sustaining solution to control the spread and impacts of dengue, chikungunya, Zika and yellow fever.
About World Mosquito Program (WMP)
The World Mosquito Program (WMP) is a not-for-profit group of companies wholly owned by Monash University, Australia, that works to protect the global community from mosquito-borne viral diseases such as dengue, chikungunya, Zika and yellow fever. After effectively eliminating transmission of these viruses from Australia, WMP has expanded to now be working in 14 countries across Asia, Oceania and the Americas.
Promote health and social development, generate and disseminate scientific and technological knowledge, be an agent of citizenship. These are the concepts that guide the actions of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), under the Ministry of Health, the most prominent institution of science and technology in health in Latin America.