SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2016

Panama approves evaluation for Oxitec's sterile mosquitoes

Oxitec, Ltd., an Oxford, England-based insect control product development company, announced on Tuesday that Panama approved the next phase of evaluation for the company's sterile mosquitoes as a way to control dengue-carrying mosquitoes.

Panama's Gorgas Institute will conduct an open-field evaluation of Oxitec's mosquitoes after receiving a recommendation from Panama's National Biosafety Committee and formal approval from the Ministries of Commerce and Industry and Agricultural Development.

The announcement comes several weeks after Javier Diaz, Panama's health minister, declared that Panama was experiencing a dengue epidemic. The increasing number of cases demonstrated a need for new ways to control the dengue mosquito, Aedes aegypti, which transmits the disease.

"Dengue fever is a growing concern in Panama, and the tools we have for controlling the dengue mosquito are limited and increasingly ineffective," Nestor Sosa, the director of the Gorgas Institute, said. "There is a real need to explore additional, more effective technologies for combating this pest and tackling the dengue problem."

The evaluation will start this spring in a residential suburb west of Panama city. Previous evaluations demonstrated that Oxitec's mosquitoes were able to suppress dengue mosquito populations by more than 90 percent in the areas of release in Brazil and the Cayman Islands.

"We've worked closely with Oxitec and with local communities here in Panama to bring this project to the evaluation stage, and I'm delighted that we're now able to take this next step," Sosa said. "People in Panama know as well as anyone the toll that dengue fever can exact on a community: this exciting new technology may offer real hope for a future free from dengue."

The World Health Organization estimates that dengue affects approximately 50 to 100 million people annually. Panama reported more than 3,000 cases of dengue in 2013.