Standing in the main park of the municipality of Itagüí, in Colombia’s Aburrá Valley, scientists and government leaders clasp clear plastic cups. These contain Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes that can block transmission of dengue, Zika and chikungunya.
In unison, the lids are removed to release a flurry of mosquitoes, symbolising the launch of the World Mosquito Program (WMP) Wolbachia method in Itagüí, in partnership with the University of Antioquia and the city’s Health Department.
An extension of the WMP’s project in Medellín, Itagüí and the neighbouring municipality of Sabaneta signed up to the WMP method in July this year.
The collaboration in Itagüí brings together the WMP’s leading technology, the local community, and government and health partners to significantly reduce the transmission of diseases by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
In the last decade, Itagüí has faced two major epidemic outbreaks of dengue: the first in 2010 (with 3475 cases) and the second in 2016 (with 2881 cases), which was the highest incidence of dengue across the entire Aburrá Valley.
Leader of the WMP in Colombia, and Director of the Program for the Study and Control of Tropical Diseases (PECET) at the University of Antioquia, Dr Iván Darío Vélez, explains how Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes can help.
"Once released, Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes mate with those in the wild until, over time, the bacteria establish in the local mosquito population, reducing the risk of disease outbreaks such as dengue,” he says.
The first phase of Wolbachia-carrying mosquito releases will take place in 2020, following a period of extensive community and public acceptance activities.