Jan 04, 2022 | News

Information Sharing in Senegal on the Gene Drive Technology as a potential Complementary Tool for Malaria Vector Control

Information Sharing in Senegal on the Gene Drive Technology as a potential Complementary Tool for Malaria Vector Control

AUDA-NEPAD in partnership with the National Biosafety Authority (Autorité Nationale de Biosécurité (ANB) in Senegal organized an Information sharing meeting on the gene drive technology as a complementary tool for malaria vector control, from 22-23 December 2021, in Somone, Senegal.

The key objective of the meeting was to discuss the opportunities offered by gene drive technology for malaria control, based on the current state of art of knowledge and experiences from countries that are testing this approach. Sixty people, including key stakeholders from relevant institutions in Senegal and experts from Burkina Faso and Mali took part in the meeting.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Ousseynou Kassé, Executive Director of ANB thanked AUDA-NEPAD for the support provided in the organization of this meeting. He also thanked the experts from Burkina Faso and Mali who came to share their experiences on the subject.  “We started the discussions on the Gene Drive approach some years ago at the COP-MOP meeting held in Mexico and we continued it in the past years in the sub-region. Recently we were in Accra twice to discuss the same topic ahead of the next COP-MOP meeting”, he said.

Mr. Yero Dé, Chairperson of the Orientation Council of ANB, highlighted that the meeting seeks to improve stakeholders’ understanding of the gene drive technology as a novel malaria control approach. “We need to consider adopting this new approach through an open discussion on how this technology could be used in the health sector and in particular in malaria control and elimination. Malaria mortality rate is very high in most of our countries and the efforts deployed so far to control the disease face important challenges, including the resistance of the vector to the current treatments”, he further stated. 

Dr Jeremy Ouedraogo, Head of AUDA-NEPAD ABNE programme and Coordinator of the IVM, said that, “The IVM programme seeks to experiment the gene drive technology through the national scientific research structures. Sensitization meetings were organized since 2017 and I am proud to mention that Senegal was one of the first countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that committed national funds to organize sensitization workshop on gene drive. We are therefore proud to be here again today to share the experiences of countries that have already started R&D on gene Drive, namely Burkina Faso and Mali. I would also like to commend these 2 countries for their engagement and openness to share with their brothers and sisters in Senegal, the results they have already achieved as well as the challenges encountered in their research activities.  

Prof. Amadou Gallo Diop, Director General of Research and Innovation in Senegal pointed out that “Research is expensive, and our scientists need adequate funding otherwise we will continue to rely on technologies and products developed abroad. …We need to secure adequate funding through an improved resource mobilization strategy in the medium and long term. This speaks to political leaders and to donors. After having missed the Green Revolution opportunity, Africa must absolutely strive to fill the technology gap which is widening vis-à-vis most advanced countries.”

Issues debated during the meeting include (i) expectations raised about  the use of  vaccination to control malaria  (ii) assessment of potential ecological impacts of  mosquito population suppression  , (iii) monitoring of potential impacts on diseases that could be associated with the release of modified f mosquitos, (iv) cost and time required for  obtaining satisfactory  results from the release of modified mosquitos, (v) sustainability in malaria control after termination of  donor funding , (vi) strategies to avoid the development of resistance to gene drive technology, the need to clarify the advantages and the possible shortcomings of the technology; (vi) the need to balance  risks and benefits, and  (vii) the  risks associated with potential misuse of gene drive technology, including for terrorism purposes . Experts provide answers to all the concerns raised and particularly highlighted the safety measures put in place at national, regional, and international levels to ensure a safe use of the technology. It was also underscored that the gene drive technology uses a phased approach following the World Health Organization recommendation; unless a phase in scrutiny shows satisfactory results, it is impossible to move the process forward.

A the end of the meeting, participants adopted four key recommendations including (i) the adoption of the Senegal revised biosafety law to allow research  on modern biotechnology and related  emerging technologies, (ii) building the capacity of national scientists in biotechnology and emerging technologies to enable them to safely adapt these technologies to local needs, (iii) exploring crop adaptability and nutrition improving as starting point for agricultural biotechnology deployment in Senegal, and (iv) developing a 10-year research and innovation plan to secure adequate funding and envisage a paradigm shift on  research and innovation in the sub-region.