A concern has been raised that authorities from the neighbouring US Virgin Islands (USVI) did not consult with the BVI before deciding to deliberately release a breed of non-biting mosquitos on to St Croix, USVI to reduce the population of a disease-carrying type of mosquito on that island.
Well-known local attorney Jamal Smith raised that concern on social social site Facebook recently.
His concern follows an announcement by the Virgin Islands Department of Health (VIDOH) that they plan to launch what is known as a Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) initiative to eradicate the Aedes Aegypti mosquito — an insect that can spread dengue fever, chikungunya, the zika virus and other diseases.
“The project will consist of releasing non-biting, sterile male mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia, a naturally occurring bacterium that is found in most insects worldwide. When Wolbachia-carrying males are released in neighbourhoods and mate with wild Aedes aegypti females. The females’ eggs will not hatch, producing no offspring,” the VIDOH stated.
It further said that the sterile mosquitoes to be released are not genetically modified and stressed that the VIDOH has never considered using genetically modified mosquito control methods for use in the USVI.
Once the regulatory phase is completed, the project is expected to commence early in early 2020.
Consult the BVI
Though stating he is happy no genetically modified mosquitos are being used in the neighbouring territory’s initiative, Smith in his social media post, addressed the need for better usage of the Inter-Virgin Islands Council — a seemingly inactive body established in 1990 through a Memorandum of Understanding between the BVI and USVI.
The attorney said the Inter-Virgin Islands Council should have been used to discuss matters such as these, which he believes has the potential of impacting the BVI.
He said: “I believe closer collaboration on these types of activities are absolutely necessary due to the inter-connectivity of our ecosystems across the channel.”
Efforts to contact Health Minister Carvin Malone for comment were unsuccessful.
How Wolbachia works in mosquitos?
According to the World Mosquito Programme (WMP), Wolbachia can work two ways within a mosquito.
“The first way is to boost the natural immune system of the mosquito to make it harder for the mosquito to support the Zika, dengue, chikungunya or yellow fever infection. If the mosquito can’t get infected, then it can’t transmit these viruses to people,” the WMP said.
The second method involves the Wolbachia competing against viruses within the mosquito for key molecules like cholesterol to survive.
“When Wolbachia is present, it consumes these molecules and makes it harder for the viruses to grow. If it’s harder for the viruses to grow, then it’s harder for them to be transmitted.”
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