The Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU) has partnered with United Kingdom (UK)-based biotechnology company Oxitec to undertake new mosquito control measures in the Cayman Islands.
The new measures are aimed at controlling the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which spreads diseases such as the Zika and Yellow Fever viruses.
Premier Hon Alden McLaughlin announced the partnership in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday, 5 May.
He said, “I am pleased to announce today that Using pioneering science, the project is designed to fight the dangerous Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads Zika, dengue and chikungunya.”
Mr McLaughlin noted that “Oxitec is a world-leader in the fight against this breed of mosquito and is currently implementing its control solution in Brazil which is, of course, at the epicentre of the present Zika outbreak.”
The premier also revealed that Cayman is a pioneer in this programme outside of Brazil.
“I am very proud to say that the Cayman Islands is the only other country in the world where this programme will be taking place outside of Brazil, and we are once again leading the way in the advancement of mosquito control measures,” he said.
Oxitec’s pioneering technology produces a genetically engineered non-biting male mosquito that breeds with the disease-transmitting Aedes aegypti females. This means that offspring inherit a gene which causes them to die before reaching adulthood, ensuring that they do not reproduce.
“This is an environmentally friendly approach to curtailing the breed, as no insecticides are necessary,” Mr McLaughlin noted.
The premier said that while the Cayman Islands remain free of the Zika virus, the country must remain vigilant in controlling the spread of various mosquito-borne diseases.
“While we are no strangers to the occasional case of dengue, and last year we had a few imported cases of chikungunya, we so far remain free of Zika,” Mr McLaughlin confirmed. “Nonetheless, our Public Health Department continues to be vigilant, monitoring the situation regarding Zika and all other infectious diseases.”
He said, “Zika is of particular concern because of its links to birth defects, including microcephaly, and other medical conditions that are currently being monitored and researched. Zika has spread rapidly across the Americas and is now in many of our neighbouring countries. On 1st February, the World Health Organization declared an international public health emergency.”
Mr McLaughlin noted that the WHO in March recommended the implementation of Oxitec’s solution to control the Aedes aegypti mosquito as part of the global response to the Zika crisis.
The premier acknowledged the longstanding relationship between the MRCU and Oxitec, as a research trial was previously held by the firm in Cayman.
“We have had an ongoing relationship with Oxitec since 2010 as MRCU has been at the forefront of mosquito-control research,” he said. “Trials successfully reduced the Aedes aegypti by 96 per cent in an area of the island where the study was taking place, so we are happy to have now signed an agreement with Oxitec for a new project, which we envisage being the first step in a multi-phase roll-out across Grand Cayman. The timing could not be better as the world faces the Zika epidemic and continued outbreaks of dengue and chikungunya.”
Mr McLaughlin announced that the control progamme will begin in West Bay before being expanded throughout the island, subject to the appropriate approvals and funding.
As part of public education about this important project, staff from MRCU and Oxitec will have an information booth at West Bay dock through Saturday 7 May, as well as an information desk at a location in West Bay that is yet to be announced.
Staff will also conduct house-to-house visits in West Bay to inform residents about what is happening. Updated information will be available to residents in the coming weeks, Mr McLaughlin said.
The premier praised the public entities engaged in the local fight against mosquitoes.
“I take this opportunity to acknowledge the continued efforts of the team at MRCU. They sometimes have to work in very difficult conditions but they do an amazing and very important job in helping to control all mosquito species, including our main disease vector, the Aedes aegypti,” he said.
He continued, “I also recognise and applaud the teamwork that takes place between MRCU and Public Health at the Health Services Authority.”
“As a result of the long-standing pioneering work by MRCU, the Cayman Islands has benefitted from outstanding mosquito control, and the MRCU has a well-deserved reputation of excellence in mosquito control throughout the region,” Mr McLaughlin said.
He also urged residents to be aware of mosquito control measures and to play their part.
“As we head into CARPHA Mosquito Awareness Week from 9th -15th May, it is a good time for us all to remember to play our part, too, by ensuring that we do not leave any standing water in our yards. It is very important that we empty buckets and drums and clean our gutters to eliminate possible breeding areas for mosquitoes,” Mr McLaughlin said.
“It is our collective responsibility to unite in the fight against this dangerous insect, which for so many generations past, was the scourge of these islands,” the premier asserted.
He concluded his statement to fellow elected representatives by saying, “I end by thanking Oxitec for partnering with MRCU on this exciting development in mosquito control which has the potential for far-reaching and long-lasting consequences for world health.”
Since the programme will begin in their district, West Bay MLAs were among the first to learn about the new mosquito controls as part of the community engagement initiative which started this week.
Leader of the Opposition Hon McKeeva Bush; Minister for Education, Employment and Gender Affairs, Hon Tara Rivers; Bernie Bush and Capt Eugene Ebanks met with members of MRCU and Oxitec on Wednesday (4 May) to discuss the public information campaign in the district.