Government and Oxitec Agree to New Contract

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  • A new contract between the Cayman Islands Government and biotechnology company, Oxitec, focuses on evaluation of integrated mosquito management techniques to control the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
  • Traditional ground control work, including spraying, begins immediately in three areas of West Bay. The release of Oxitec’s male mosquitoes, identified by Oxitec as Friendly™ Mosquitoes, will start in about a week’s time.
  • Government is appealing for community support, in particular with the work of inspecting all properties in areas under evaluation, in order to remove sources of standing water, the Aedes aegypti breeding ground.

Government and international biotechnology company, Oxitec, have signed a new contract to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of including Oxitec’s mosquitoes within MRCU’s Integrated Mosquito Management (IMM) programme to combat the dangerous, disease-carrying mosquito Aedes aegypti.

The new programme will occur in the southwestern area of West Bay, where Government and Oxitec previously collaborated on the release of Friendly™ Mosquitoes- non-biting, genetically modified, male mosquitoes- and a second comparator area in southeast West Bay. It will also expand releases of those same mosquitoes into a neighbouring but geographically distinct area to the northwest of the district.

Mosquito Research and Control Unit Director James McNelly says the programme is set to begin immediately, beginning with public outreach.

Director McNelly explains that in two areas (northwest and southwest) the programme will combine the release of varying levels of Oxitec mosquitoes with MRCU’s traditional ground control measures of inspecting and spraying sources of standing water, in which Aedes aegypti might breed. Inspections will take place at all business and residential premises.

The comparator area in the southeast will also benefit from MRCU’s traditional mosquito surveillance and control measures, but will not see Oxitec mosquitoes deployed.

The integration of cutting edge techniques, following a proper process of scientific evaluation, is vital to a future Aedes aegypti eradication programme, and has the potential to increase efficiency and reduce MRCU’s reliance on insecticide formulations, the Director comments.

“Within the areas under evaluation we will go door to door to inspect every residence. This is a very labour intensive approach and as such we are appealing to interested members of the community to reach out to us to find out how they can help with this process,” he adds. Further, “Fogging operations will continue in all areas as required from both our trucks and planes.”

MRCU officials and Oxitec representatives will also collaborate to educate and inform West Bay residents in the areas under evaluation about the project and what they can expect while it is underway. Interested persons may contact MRCU/Oxitec at 949-2557, or by email at info@mrcu.ky or cayman@oxitec.com.

They should also stay tuned to local media and like the MRCU Facebook page for details of forthcoming public information and education activities.

The evaluation period is expected to run through the end of the year and will be completed before the expiration in 2019 of the permit for the release of Oxitec’s non-biting, male mosquitoes that MRCU received from the National Conservation Council in June 2017.

Health Minister, Hon. Dwayne Seymour stresses the priority that Government places on eradicating a mosquito known to carry diseases such as yellow fever, chikungunya, Zika and dengue viruses.

Minister Seymour remarks that data derived from the new programme will also assist in the determination of the most effective, efficient and sustainable tools as MRCU develops its approach to eradicating the mosquito that transmits these diseases.

The Minister goes on to say, “If this further evaluation proves the method to be effective, the Cayman Islands will be making significant progress in the battle against this disease vector and may serve as a model for other countries in our region that are struggling to address this public health threat.”

“The Cayman Islands is far from immune to viral illnesses that affect other countries and has already experienced a brief outbreak of Zika in late 2016 and early 2017. With the region preparing for a possible outbreak of dengue type 4 this summer, we need to arm ourselves with every weapon at our disposal, including the best scientific information,” Ministry of Health Chief Officer Jennifer Ahearn notes.

This will not be the first time Grand Cayman has worked with Oxitec to implement a joint project aimed at tackling Aedes aegypti.

“In 2009, MRCU performed the world’s first suppression trial with Oxitec’s self-limiting Friendly™ Aedes aegypti mosquito. Once again, we are inspired by the leadership of the Cayman Islands government in assessing new and innovative solutions, like ours, to vector control challenges,” said Grey Frandsen, CEO of Oxitec. “We look forward to our continued collaboration against the wild Aedes aegypti population in Grand Cayman.”

Oxitec’s project manager in the Cayman Islands, Dr. Renaud Lacroix adds that, as part of its mission, the company works with a number of governments and communities, in North and South America and the Caribbean, to use technology in a cost effective manner. The evaluation period for the Cayman Islands programme is very much in keeping with this philosophy Dr. Lacroix affirms.

The new programme is expected to cost Government CI$588,000 and there is no obligation to renew the contract once its term is concluded. Additional information about the programme is available from www.mrcu.ky and www.oxitec.com.

MRCU Assistant Director Research and Development Alan Wheeler PhD comments: “The new project will evaluate the Oxitec mosquito as part of an integrated control strategy alongside other control techniques. This will allow us to thoroughly evaluate the technique before implementing plans to expand it to other areas of the island”.