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MRCU frustrated by delayed mosquito release

Genetically modified mosquitoes being destroyed in the MRCU lab.
Genetically modified mosquitoes being destroyed in the MRCU lab.

As the Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU), in collaboration with UK-based biotech company Oxitec prepared for the scheduled second trial release of the “Friendly Aedes Aegypt”i genetically-modified mosquito project in the district of West Bay on Thursday, an 11th hour court appeal by local activists who oppose the second trial, was successful in delaying the release until a Judge decides on the outcome.

Commenting on the proceedings, the Attorney General’s Office told The Cayman Reporter, The action is brought against the Dept. of Environment and the National Conservation Council, both of which are represented by the Chambers of the Attorney General.”

The Applicant is Dwene Ebanks, represented by HSM Chambers.

The Attorney General’s Office further confirmed that during an “in Chambers session, the Court granted leave for a judicial review of the decision to undertake the pilot project, which will result in a suspension of the planned release.

As a result of Thursday’s legal power struggle, over 75,000 genetically modified mosquitoes had to be destroyed by MRCU as they await a court’s final ruling, which is expected to be heard on Tuesday, 19 July.

This chart shows the areas of the region affected by the Zika virus.
This chart shows the areas of the region affected by the Zika virus.

Controversy has surrounded this second planned release, following successful trials in 2010 in the district of East End.  Activists argue that the Government failed to properly educate the public on various aspects of the release and pointed to the lack of independent research to support Oxitec’s claims.

The project forms part of on-going trials, recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), in the fight to control what has been described as a global public health emergency concerning the spread of the Zika virus, which to date has seen over 1,000 confirmed cases in the continental United States, a major trading partner of the Cayman Islands.

In a public awareness leaflet distributed by MRCU and Oxitech it stated that MRCU has been investing significant resources to fight the aedes aegypti mosquito which transmits not only Zika , but also the four known strains of Dengue and Chikungunya.  The leaflets point out that currently available tools to combat the spread of the diseases carrying mosquito, or vector, have proven insufficient.

The leaflets further suggest the subsequent trials conducted in 2010 in the district of East End resulted in an over 96 percent reduction of the aedes aegypti mosquito populations, with similar success rates being witnessed in neighbouring Panama and Brazil, with each area achieving an over 90 percent reduction of mosquito populations.

Speaking to the Cayman Reporter, Dr William Petrie, Director of MRCU said in response to the delay, “As we were well advanced with the planned release of the genetically modified mosquitoes, I am disappointed that there is now a delay in getting the project underway, particularly as we now have Zika confirmed to be present in the Cayman Islands. However, we do understand there is a legal process to go through and, depending on the outcome of Court proceedings on Tuesday 19th July, we are hopeful the delay will be short in duration.

Dr Petrie added that A lengthy delay could be detrimental to the whole programme and it is important, from a public health perspective, that we are able to use every weapon at our disposal to protect residents and visitors from the diseases transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.”

Dr Petrie stated that a lot of planning as gone into this second trial for the Cayman Islands, and timing was essential in order to protect public health against the threat of mosquito-borne illnesses.  He said, “As the rainy season continues the population of Aedes aegypti will increase, and I am informed that the Zika situation in the region is worsening, both factors which increase the risk of local transmission of the virus in Cayman. From a vector control and disease prevention standpoint, therefore, it is hoped we can get the project back on track as soon as possible.”

Likewise, Acting Medical Officer of Health, Dr Samuel Williams-Rodriguez who together with the Ministry of Health have been closely monitoring the project, noted his disappointment with the delay but was confident a legal remedy would be found.  Dr Williams-Rodriguez said, “Understandably, the deferral in launching the Oxitec project for the Cayman Islands is met with concern in relation to our obligation to prioritise means to protect the health, safety and well-being of all residents and visitors alike.” He added, “That being said, I remain confident in the system of justice and it is my hope that both legally and scientifically, all agencies will be permitted to move forward in implementing this worthwhile project.”

On Friday, 15 July, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) announced the first case of female-to-male sexual transmission of the Zika virus.  According to an article that first appeared on http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/866219, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now rewriting its advice on how to deal with the growing public health threat.

Until now, all previously reported instances of sexually transmitted Zika infection involved male-to-female transmission.

In addition to a high level delegation of officials from Jamaica’s Ministry of Health, a news crew from Japan, who were said to be filming a 50-minute documentary on the spread on the Zika virus across the region, were also present in Cayman to learn more about the project and to witness Thursday’s previously planned release.

 

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