The World Mosquito Program (WMP) Yogyakarta plans to release millions of Wolbachia mosquito eggs in Buleleng Regency and Denpasar City, Bali, to anticipate the spread of dengue hemorrhagic fever during the upcoming rainy season.
However, the plan to release Wolbachia mosquito eggs has been postponed due to public concerns about potential health effects on the human body.
Responding to the rejection in the Bali community, Dr. Riris Andono Ahmad, MD, a researcher at the UGM Center for Tropical Medicine and a member of the World Mosquito Program (WMP) Yogyakarta, stated on Friday (November 17) that such resistance is common.
He explained that there was also initial resistance when Wolbachia mosquito eggs were released in locations in Yogyakarta. However, the program was eventually implemented after receiving support from local governments, and education was given to the community.
Dr. Ahmad said that releasing millions of Wolbachia mosquito eggs into the Aedes aegypti population can potentially suppress dengue virus transmission.
Releasing male and female mosquitoes with Wolbachia for about six months allows most mosquitoes in the population to have Wolbachia.
“It is hoped that it will reduce the transmission of the dengue virus,” he said.
He explained that when male Wolbachia mosquitoes mate with female mosquitoes without Wolbachia, their eggs will not hatch. However, if Wolbachia-positive female mosquitoes breed with Wolbachia-negative males, all their eggs will hatch.
Additionally, if Wolbachia-positive female mosquitoes mate with Wolbachia-positive males, their offspring will all hatch and contain Wolbachia.
Regarding concerns from some community members that Wolbachia could infect the human body, Dr. Ahmad emphatically stated that Wolbachia does not infect humans, and there is no horizontal transmission to other species.
Wolbachia also does not contaminate biotic and abiotic environments.
He conveyed that Wolbachia technology has been studied in Yogyakarta for 12 years since 2011.
This research began with the feasibility and safety phase (2011-2012), limited-scale release phase (2013-2015), large-scale release phase (2016-2020), and implementation phase (2021-2022).
He said the first study of the Application of Wolbachia for Eliminating Dengue (AWED) was conducted in Yogyakarta using a Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial (CRCT) design.
The results of the AWED study showed that Wolbachia-infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes could reduce dengue cases by 77.1% and decrease hospitalizations due to dengue by 86%.
Based on these findings and results from other countries implementing the WMP technology, Wolbachia technology for dengue control has been recommended by the WHO Vector Control Advisory Group since 2021.
Regarding the request for study results and recommendations from the Ministry of Health related to the release of Wolbachia mosquito eggs, Dr. Ahmad said that the Ministry of Health is concurrently developing a national strategy for dengue control. Wolbachia technology is part of the innovative dengue control program.
“The Ministry of Health plans to implement it gradually,” he explained.
Wolbachia is a natural bacterium found in 6 out of 10 insect species. In Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, Wolbachia can reduce the replication of the dengue virus, thereby reducing their capacity as dengue vectors.
The primary working mechanism is through competition for food between the virus and bacteria. With limited food available to support the virus, it cannot multiply.
Through this mechanism, Wolbachia can reduce the dengue virus replication in mosquitoes. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes with Wolbachia are not genetically modified organisms.
Wolbachia bacteria introduced into the body of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are identical to Wolbachia found in their natural host, Drosophila melanogaster.
“It needs to be emphasized that Wolbachia-infected Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes are not the result of genetic modification,” he said.
In terms of Wolbachia’s safety aspects, he added that a 2016 risk analysis initiated by the Ministry of Education and the National Institute of Health Research and Development, Ministry of Health, concluded that Wolbachia mosquitoes have a low risk to humans and their environment.
“They conclude that the release of Wolbachia-infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes has a very low risk, where the likelihood of increased danger over the next 30 years can be ignored,” he said.
Author: Gusti Grehenson