Unkategorisiert

Interview with Dr. Sory

Gene Drives will most probably be released first to fight malaria. We therefore created this series of interviews with health care experts, researchers and civil society to amplify their voices and concerns around this technology.

How did you get involved with Gene Drives as a burkinabé epidemiologist?

Dr. Sory is an epidemiologist with 10 years of experience. Among others he has been the director of quality of the biggest hospital in Burkina Faso from 2016-2018, the focal point for non-transmittable diseases, member of the COVID 19 epidemic response unit and part of the Atlanta Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

His focus has always been on the big questions around public health. He got involved with Gene Drives when he headed a group of civil societies raising questions about the research conducted by Target Malaria. He eventually dropped out when the Regional Director of the Bobo Dioulasso Health Science Research Institute informed them about the release of genetically engineered mosquitoes on a too short notice. Seen that this did not give them any chance to react, he decided to leave the organization so as to not raise the impression that his group was consulted and agreed on that - seen that this was not the case at all. His main concerns back then and still nowadays around gene drive mosquitoes are that it is an untested technology whose indirect or direct impacts on human health and the environmental equilibrium cannot be predicted. He was never categorically against the release of gene drive mosquitoes, but asked for a transparent and precautionary step-by-step approach in order to properly assess all impacts. 

How is the situation in Burkina Faso and what needs to be done?

Dr. Sory is positive about the existing malaria strategies in his country and the existing and upcoming measures to fight the disease. 

Key to the success of the strategies is access to information, education and a change in behavior. There are strategies in Burkina Faso that are targeted towards children between 3 and 5 or pregnant women, but hygiene and sanitation remains a big problem. The upcoming vaccines seem promising to him and could be a valuable addition to the existing strategies. Furthermore, research on the efficacy and use of the artemisia plant could open new doors. Drugs are accessible in Burkina Faso and the government is subsidizing it for children under 5 and pregnant women. 

What steps and approaches are needed?

A further game changer in the fight against malaria would be to involve sectors and ministries that are not dealing with health care, because malaria affects everything and in return is affected by malaria. Housing, education, agricultural practices, city planning, drainage systems, all these sectors should be involved in a holistique solution against malaria. The biggest obstacle for the disease still remains the “environmental hygiene” as Dr. Sory calls it. Everywhere the water stagnates, being it during rain or dry season. The grey water of households is flushed in the streets, there is no proper drainage system so water stagnates everywhere, which is the breeding ground for mosquitoes. When it rains the water remains literally everywhere. “We can invest billions of dollars in other measures, but if we do not resolve this issues, we won’t fight malaria.”, concludes Dr. Sory. This approach would also help in the fight against other diseases, seeing that other main mortality causes, such as diarrhea or lung diseases, result from low hygiene and sanitation standards. 

What do you think about Gene Drives to fight malaria?

In regard to Gene drives Dr. Sory believes that there is not much incentive to approve a technology that affects the very basis of organisms when we cannot measure its impact, especially if there are already other solutions at hand that we could increase and support.

--

These are the interviews on the topic held so far with the following experts:

Andreas Wulf, physician and expert for global health policy at Medico International in the Berlin office, provides his views on the role of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in international health policy and his outlook on necessary conditions for the implementation of the human right to health in Africa.
Click here for the interview

Ali Tapsoba de Goamma, human rights activist, and spokesman for an alliance in Burkina Faso against the release of Gene Drive mosquitoes in his home country, on the malaria control measures implemented so far and the attitude of the local population towards the planned field trials with Gene Drive mosquitoes.
Click here for the interview

Pamela J. Weathers, professor and researcher at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, USA, on the efficacy and controversial safety of Artemisia tea infusions for treating or preventing malaria.
Click here for the interview

Lucile Cornet-Vernet, founder of La Maison de L’Artémisia, and Arnaud Nouvion describe the potential benefits of the Artémisia plant and state that more funding is needed to conduct clinical studies, proving once and for all that the plant is a great tool in the fight against malaria.

Click here and here for the interviews

More interviews to follow.


Teapot with two steaming mugs of tea.

Interview with Lucile Cornet-Vernet

Gene Drives will most probably be released first to fight malaria. We therefore created this series of interviews with health care experts, researchers and civil society to amplify their voices and concerns around this technology.

How did you get to work on malaria and what are you doing?

Lucile Cornet-Vernet is the founder of “La Maison de l'Artemisia” (engl.: the house of artemisia) founded in 2012. After her friend, Alexandre Poussin, got severly sick from Malaria in Ethiopia and recovered due to a tea made from the artemisia plant she started on a one year research adventure, where she read through all the publications around artemisia and malaria, back then around 800, nowadays approximately 1500. She called doctors who worked with the plant and created a whole bibliography on the state of the art around artemisia curing malaria. She then decided to dedicate her entire work to that plant and created the first “Maison de l’Artémisia”, nowadays there are around 105 of them in 27 countries. They function as research and training centers, where especially vulnerable populations (low income or remote communities) get formations on how to grow, harvest and prepare the preventive or curative teas. 

What plants are you working with and what about emerging resistances to Artemisinin?

Before they achieved this, Lucile reached out to an agronomist and they worked on adapting the seeds that originally came from the high plateaus of China to the African regions. Artemisia has a high genetic diversity. Lucile managed well to adapt the seeds to different climates. 

Lucile works with two different plant varieties. The Artemisia afra and Artemisia annua. The second comes from China and has 23 different components against malaria. The first one is a bit less researched but has at least 10 components, contains no artemisinin and is a perennial bush, making it much easier for people to grow and sustain it. There has been some research published about the emergence of artemisinin resistance in south-east Asia. This does not threaten her project, says Lucile, seeing that artemisinin is only one component in the plant that fights the disease and that Artemisia afra for example does not even use that. Furthermore, this resistance has been observed for quite some time. Whereas in China, where Artemisia annua originally comes from and where the plant has been used over centuries (and is officially malaria-free since 2021) no resistance has been detected. Lucile furthermore describes the plants as “poli-therapeutical” due to their multiple anti-malarial components. That is more diverse than any drug on the market and makes it resistant to resistances. 

Why isn't the plant the mainstream solution to malaria then?

The biggest obstacle to her work is that they lack funding to do large scale clinical tests with the plants, conducted by uncontestable doctors, so that the plant could be mainstreamed as a solution. Lucile has initiated a consortium with a dozen world-renowned research organizations, such as Institut Pasteur. This consortium evaluates the efficacy of artemisia and would conduct randomized tests, when funding comes in. 

What makes malaria worse than most other diseases?

Lucile talks about the alarming effect malaria has on the whole continent. Apart from thousands of deaths that mostly hit the poorest, pregnant women and children, the disease creates a vicious cycle of poverty. Malaria can weaken people for a long time, which prevents farmers from sowing their seeds at the right point in time, mothers from selling their surplus on markets to generate an income or children from going to school. The world has set its mind on producing very cheap medicine against malaria, but families still have to afford the treatment, which in many cases is even wrongly produced and does not cure the people. 

Lucile gives the example of the DRC, where 60% of the budget from the health ministry is spent on malaria control, keeping the country trapped. 

What do you think about Gene Drives?

Regarding gene drives, Lucile does not see them as a solution. She has a quite clear stance against GMOs. She managed to adapt the Artemisia seeds to a whole continent, with different climates and ecosystems, without knocking in a gene for heat resistance. “Before doing something complicated, why not do it easy?” We can’t know what the effects of GDOs are, therefore she’d propose to rather work on the solutions we have at hand. Like the artemisia plant, that would give back the power to the people to treat themselves. The solution is effective, cheap, with a low carbon footprint and local. 

____

Further videos: https://youtu.be/xI_dKFhojhM 

The book published by Lucile: Artemisia | Actes Sud (actes-sud.fr)

--

These are the interviews on the topic held so far with the following experts:

Andreas Wulf, physician and expert for global health policy at Medico International in the Berlin office, provides his views on the role of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in international health policy and his outlook on necessary conditions for the implementation of the human right to health in Africa.
Click here for the interview

Ali Tapsoba de Goamma, human rights activist, and spokesman for an alliance in Burkina Faso against the release of Gene Drive mosquitoes in his home country, on the malaria control measures implemented so far and the attitude of the local population towards the planned field trials with Gene Drive mosquitoes.
Click here for the interview

Pamela J. Weathers, professor and researcher at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, USA, on the efficacy and controversial safety of Artemisia tea infusions for treating or preventing malaria.
Click here for the interview

Arnaud Nouvion, consultant La Maison de L’Artémisia, describes the potential benefits of the Artémisia plant and state that more funding is needed to conduct clinical studies, proving once and for all that the plant is a great tool in the fight against malaria.

Click here for the interview

More interviews to follow.


A green bush of the artemisia plant.

Interview with Arnaud Nouvion

Gene Drives will most probably be released first to fight malaria. We therefore created this series of interviews with health care experts, researchers and civil society to amplify their voices and concerns around this technology.

How is the financial situation around Malaria?

“It is great how much money is available these days to fight diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis or aids. The Global Fund has recently raised 14 billion dollars, from which a big chunk is dedicated to malaria. Most of the money is spent on nets, the newest medicine and the vaccin.”, says Arnaud Nouvion from the Maison de l’Artémisia (engl.: house of artemisia),

“I think that is great! Every money spent to fight malaria is well spent.”

What "solutions" are you working on?

He points out that there are also cheaper measures against the disease, such as the artemisia plant, that would “only” require 10 million dollars to proceed with clinical studies and prove once and for all if the plant works. This money would be needed to fulfill the requirements of the World Health Organization. There are a lot of renowned doctors and research institutes, such as l’Institut Pasteur or the University of Tübingen, that have joined forces in an international consortium to examine the benefits of the artemisia plant. But they still lack the funding to conduct their research. For pharmaceutical labs there is no incentive to work on the plant, because the main  idea is that the plant would be easily available and cheap. Economically speaking it makes sense that no for-profit-company works on this. Labs are made to develop highly complicated medication and artemisia is not. 

“Artemisia is the “praise of simplicity”, says Arnaud, “You simply boil a handful of the stem and the leaves for 10 minutes and you get your tea.”

This has been practiced in China for centuries. The nobel prize laureate Tu Youyou discovered in traditional medical books that artemisinin (an extract from the artemisia plant) could cure malaria.

Why have no philanthropists invested in that?

Arnaud Nouvion believes that this solution has not reached the philanthropes yet. Because if they’d discover that, it would be a “dream come true'' for them. This could have the biggest impact. It could save thousands of lives. Malaria is not the deadliest of the diseases, but it has the worst impact on the livelihoods of people. Nowadays there are thousands of hectares all over Africa where Artemisia is grown, in backyard gardens, by big companies or by farmers cooperatives. All are good, all work. “We have indications that it works, we just need the clinical studies to prove it once and for all and then maybe philanthropists might see it too.”, says Arnaud Nouvion, “when it comes to the correct dosing of artemisia, here again science would do its job. More research will lead to better treatment.”

He furthermore points out that Artemisia afra does not contain artemisinin, but does work against malaria, thereby even further decreasing the risk of creating resistances.

What do you think about Gene Drives?

Arnaud talks about Malaria as a really big wound, a blight, affecting many people. He sees a hierarchy of solutions. When comparing artemisia to gene drives it seems quite clear to him. On one hand he thinks, we have a cheap and easy solution that has been tested for hundreds of years and on the other hand we have an expensive, complicated and untested approach. He makes clear that he is not against novel solutions or that no money should be spent on research diversification, but that in this case the answer to the question: “which measure should be used first?”, is quite clear. 

And what about the vaccine?

A vaccine against malaria would be great too. At the same time some obstacles have to be overcome, such as keeping the refrigeration chain up until the very remote areas and guaranteeing that children between zero and two years get four doses. When it comes to artemisia Arnaud is precautious in advising it for babies. Here again he points to the lack of clinical studies. He simply doesn’t know how it would affect babies, therefore he takes a precautionary approach and advises it only for older children.  

La maison de l’Afrique  will be hosting a webinar on the 25th that is also under the umbrella of “the praise of simplicity”. Three different approaches to fighting malaria will be presented. One speaker will talk about the use of artemisia, the other one about a repellent to be applied on the skin  and the last one will present a trap to be placed around the house with an ecological insecticide. Three further “users” of these measures will talk about their experiences with it. 

A mug of artemisia tea every morning during the rainy season and nobody dies from malaria anymore. Sounds too easy? Maybe we should try this first before using complicated and expensive approaches such as Gene drives?

--

These are the interviews on the topic held so far with the following experts:

Andreas Wulf, physician and expert for global health policy at Medico International in the Berlin office, provides his views on the role of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in international health policy and his outlook on necessary conditions for the implementation of the human right to health in Africa.
Click here for the interview

Ali Tapsoba de Goamma, human rights activist, and spokesman for an alliance in Burkina Faso against the release of Gene Drive mosquitoes in his home country, on the malaria control measures implemented so far and the attitude of the local population towards the planned field trials with Gene Drive mosquitoes.
Click here for the interview

Pamela J. Weathers, professor and researcher at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, USA, on the efficacy and controversial safety of Artemisia tea infusions for treating or preventing malaria.
Click here for the interview

Lucile Cornet-Vernet, founder of La Maison de L’Artémisia, describes the potential benefits of the Artémisia plant and state that more funding is needed to conduct clinical studies, proving once and for all that the plant is a great tool in the fight against malaria.

Click here for the interview

More interviews to follow.


IUCN debates the role of genetic engineering in nature conservation

Should nature conservationists back genetic engineering of wild species in order to counter the impact of human activity?

On Friday, 10.09.2021, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN, at its World Congress adopted a resolution (Res. 075) at its General Assembly in Marseille, initiating a three-year position-finding process on the role of synthetic biology in relation to nature conservation. A draft resolution is to be developed and put to a vote by the next World Conservation Congress in 2024.

Applications to be discussed in this process include both the synthetic production of nature-identical products in the laboratory as well as proposals to control pests using genetic engineering in agriculture, or the genetic manipulation of insects for the purpose of disease control in open environmental systems. Most controversially, proponents and developers of genetic engineering processes even propose gene drivesas a means for nature conservation, e.g. for eradicating invasive species.

Provisions of IUCN Resolution 075 

Resolution 075, entitled "Development of an IUCN position on synthetic biology in relation to conservation" establishes an inclusive and participatory process within IUCN, with the aim of developing an IUCN position on the implications of the use of synthetic biology in conservation.  The resolution states that until this IUCN position is formally adopted, IUCN must remain neutral (e.g. in international fora such as the CBD) on all aspects of synthetic biology, even if new evidence emerges during the process.

By passing important amendments to Resolution 075, international conservation representatives in Marseille recognized that there exist major data and knowledge gaps as well as unsolved ethical, social, cultural and ecological issues around the technologies developed to genetically engineer wild species. Resolution 075 stipulates that these uncertainties necessitate the application of the precautionary principle and must be taken into consideration by any position the IUCN may decide to take on the topic. For this reason, particular attention in the IUCN's effort of collaborative knowledge building will be paid to identifying knowledge gaps, data deficiencies and scientific uncertainties that make it impossible to assess the impacts of existing and potential future applications of synthetic biology (including gene drives) in the context of nature conservation. In particular, open questions and challenges in ecological, conceptual, legal, socio-economic, cultural and ethical terms will be formulated and compiled. In this regard IUCN members also agreed to prioritize the perspectives, knowledge and rights of Indigenous people’s and local communities in their deliberations on these technologies during the coming 3 years.

Mareike Imken, co-ordinator of the European Stop Gene Drives campaign welcomes the IUCNs commitment to the precautionary principle and its intention to foster increased understanding and debate among its members around the use of genetic engineering technologies for nature conservation purposes.

A broad and inclusive IUCN discussion process will be crucial to raise awareness among IUCN members that the tampering with natural evolutionary rules in the application of gene drive technology will bring about a new dimension of intervening with – and irreversibly changing - the natural world that IUCN itself means to preserve.”

The contentious negotiations around this resolution at IUCN World Congress in Marseille were divided between civil society groups calling for the IUCN to not endorse environmental releases of synthetic biology applications, and pro-gene drive proponents who advocated for synthetic biology, including gene drives, to be accepted as a tool for nature conservation. One of the gene drive proponents, IUCN member Island Conservation, advocates to use gene drives to eradicate invasive mice on islands.

Civil Society press release here

To the adopted IUCN Resolution 075 here

###

On synthetic biology

The umbrella term synthetic biology is used to describe genetic engineering techniques that rebuild, resynthesize, or alter biological components or natural processes in ways that do not occur naturally. Applications of synthetic biology can either be used exclusively in closed systems/laboratories, or also aim to use them in open natural systems, using genetic engineering to alter wild species and ecosystems - for example, via the controversial process of gene drives.

History of the motion process in the IUCN

With IUCN Resolution “WCC-2016-Res-086” adopted at its Members’ Assembly in Hawaii 2016, the IUCN was tasked to develop a policy on Synthetic Biology and Biodiversity Conservation for adoption by 2020. However, both IUCN members  and members of civil society organisations  criticised the way this plan was carried out. They pointed out that there currently is insufficient awareness among IUCN members about the fundamental questions that such an IUCN position would raise. In addition, the IUCN assessment report “Genetic Frontiers for Conservation” which was largely drafted by boosters of the technology was criticized to provide an insufficient basis for the vote on such a policy.

Civil Society Briefing for IUCN Delegates for IUCN World Congress in English here

Civil Society Briefing for IUCN Delegates for IUCN World Congress in French here

Civil Society Briefing for IUCN Delegates for IUCN World Congress in Spanish here

Civil Society press release on the Start of the IUCN World Congress 2021 from 4.09.2021 in English here

---

Recommended reading:

ETC Group 2019: A review of the evidence for bias and conflict of interest in the IUCN report on synthetic biology and gene drive organisms.

Testbiotech 2019: Testbiotech comment on the IUCN report “Genetic frontiers for conservation, an assessment of synthetic biology and biodiversity conservation.

ENSSER 2021: A critique of the IUCN report ‘Genetic Frontiers for Conservation’. An assessment An assessment of synthetic biology and biodiversity conservation’ – with regards to its assessment of gene drives


Mareike Imken

Interview mit Mareike Imken

Mareike Imken
Koordination der europäischen Stop Gene Drives Kampagne, Save our Seeds, Deutschland

 

Frau Imken, warum informiert die Stop Gene Drive Kampagne
über Möglichkeiten der Malariabekämpfung?

Im Rahmen der Stop Gene Drive Kampagne wollen wir
Entscheidungsträger*innen und der breiten Öffentlichkeit
helfen, die Risiken und Potenziale der Gene Drive Technologie
im Unterschied zu alternativen Maßnahmen und Innovationen
zur Malariabekämpfung einzuordnen.
Zu diesem Zweck stellen wir im Laufe des Jahres 2021
verschiedene Ansätze und Perspektiven auf die Malariabekämpfung vor.

Was hat die Gene Drive Technologie mit Malaria zu tun?

Mit der Gene Drive Technologie soll die malariaübertragende
Anopheles Mücke gentechnisch verändert bzw. ausgerottet werden.
Vor allem die Bill & Melinda Gates Stiftung treibt
die Erforschung dieser Gentechnologie im Rahmen ihres Programms
“Target Malaria” voran. Erste Feldversuche könnten in den nächsten
5 -10 Jahren in Burkina Faso, Mali Uganda und Ghana stattfinden.
Doch solche Freisetzungsversuche bergen hohe Risiken:
Bereits Freisetzungsversuche in kleinem Umfang könnten zur Folge haben,
dass wildlebende Mückenpopulationen unwiderrufliche gentechnisch verändert
oder ausgerottet werden.
Die Konsequenzen für Umwelt, Artenvielfalt, Lebensmittelproduktion und
die menschliche Gesundheit sind jedoch weder erforscht noch absehbar.

Was ist das Ziel der Stop Gene Drive Kampagne?

Mit der Stop Gene Drive Kampagne möchten wir eine breite gesellschaftliche
Debatte über den fundamentalen Eingriff in die Natur anregen,
der mit der Anwendung der Gene Drive Technologie verbunden wäre.
Wir brauchen Zeit für eine solche Grundsatzdebatte anstatt in den nächsten
Jahren vor vollendete Tatsachen gestellt zu werden.
Deshalb fordert ein breites Bündnis aus zivilgesellschaftlichen Organisationen
in der EU und weltweit ein globales Moratorium für Freisetzungsversuche
mit gentechnisch veränderten Gene Drive Mücken.
Ein solches Moratorium würde der Menschheit Zeit verschaffen, um
Mindestvoraussetzungen für die Nutzung einer solchen Hochrisikotechnologie zu
erfüllen. Das heißt: Die Risiken der Technologie im Labor modellieren und sie
gegen die Risiken und den Nutzen von alternativen Maßnahmen abwägen. Zusätzlich
die bislang fehlenden internationalen Regularien und Entscheidungsverfahren
etablieren.

 

Hier geht's zu den anderen Interviews.


Interview with Dr. Andreas Wulf

Gene drive technology carries high risks. Yet it is being promoted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as a solution to malaria. On the occasion of World Malaria Day, the Stop Gene Drives campaign is launching a project that presents different perspectives on how to combat malaria.

In this interview with Dr Andreas Wulf, physician and global health officer at Medico International, we wanted to find out what conditions have to be met in order to implement the human right to health and what role the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation plays in international health policy in selecting measures such as those to combat malaria.

Who decides on the choice of measures to combat malaria - what interests prevail?

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB & Malaria has become the world's largest donor of malaria control, providing more than 50% of the global funds available to poor countries. The programmes are developed by the countries themselves and focus on classic public health measures (health education, prevention by insecticides and bed nets against the mosquitoes, rapid diagnosis and treatment of the sick with effective combination drugs. As a result, many countries have seen substantial successes in the reduction of malaria, and in particular in the elimination of malaria, and it is essential to continue. However, structural problems in the fight, such as persistent poverty conditions, armed conflicts that make access to affected areas impossible, and currently the interruption of programmes by Covid19 lockdowns and border closures are not solved by such public health programs. Thus, a one-sided focus on a technical "eradication of malaria" is problematic if it does not take structural conditions into view.


How do you rate the Gates Foundation's commitment to international health policy in general and to the fight against malaria in particular?

The Gates Foundation has become a dominant player in international health policy not only through the enormous financial resources it promotes research, development and implementation of health programs (for example, it is the largest donor to the WHO polio eradication program), but especially through its strategic initiatives to promote public-private "partnerships" such as GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, and currently the access to Covid19 Tools Accelerators. There is a great danger that conflicts of interest between private and public actors will be systematically hidden, as is currently seen in the debates on patents for Covid19 vaccine, in which the Gates Foundation actively strengthens the interests of the large pharmaceutical companies.

The Gates Foundation's tendency to favor technological solutions to complex health problems is particularly evident in malaria: it actively promotes research into the genetic modification of mosquitoes (gene-drive strategy) to block the transmission of malaria pathogens. More problematic, they are so convinced of the goal of a possible eradication of malaria that they are displacing other voices who are more in favour of a possibly more realistic and community-oriented "control approach" with their dominance in research funding.


What factors often stand in the way of the human right to the best possible access to health in Africa? What factors are relevant for the prevention and treatment of malaria cases and should be addressed as a priority?

Basically, good living conditions are needed in order to realize health rights individually and collectively. Food, housing, income and working conditions, peace and fair access to them for all are key factors that go far beyond the level of action of health systems and which– not only in African countries – mean massive inequalities in the realisation of health. Malnutrition, for example, exacerbates the severity of malaria and the risk of dying from it. In addition to these "social determinants of health", all people must have the knowledge about and the availability of prevention (fighting and protection against mosquitoes), diagnostics (rapid tests) and treatment (medicines, inpatient treatment in severe cases), regardless of the financial possibilities. The physical accessibility of health services, preferably public, free of charge, in which malaria programs are integrated, is also a problem in many African countries, which must be addressed not only by technical methods (e.g. research on drone operations for the distribution of drugs and tests) but above all to systematically strengthen and support community health workers not only in remote rural areas but also in poverty regions of the megacities.

--

More interviews have been held with:

Ali Tapsoba de Goamma, human rights activist, and spokesman for an alliance in Burkina Faso against the release of Gene Drive mosquitoes in his home country, on the malaria control measures implemented so far and the attitude of the local population towards the planned field trials with Gene Drive mosquitoes.
Click here for the interview

Pamela J. Weathers, professor and researcher at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, USA, on the efficacy and controversial safety of Artemisia tea infusions for treating or preventing malaria.
Click here for the interview


Interview with Ali Tapsoba

Gene drive technology carries high risks. Yet it is being promoted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as a solution to malaria. On the occasion of World Malaria Day, the Stop Gene Drives campaign is launching a project that presents different perspectives on how to combat malaria.

Ali Tapsoba de Goamma is a human rights activist and spokesman for an alliance in Burkina Faso against the release of Gene Drive mosquitoes in his home country. In this interview with him we wanted to know which malaria control measures have benn implemented in his country so far. We also ask for his perception on the attitude of the local population towards the planned field trials with Gene Drive mosquitoes.

Mr. Tapsoba, which measures have been applied to stop Malaria in Burkina Faso? Which were successful, which not? Which have not yet been attempted?  Which additional measures would be needed in Burkina Faso to end the suffering from Malaria?

Despite government efforts, malaria remains the leading cause of medical visits, hospital stays and deaths in Burkina Faso. Beyond loss of life, malaria also impacts the economy, hampers productivity, and places a significant burden on the health system.
However, the lethality rate of malaria has dropped significantly since 2015 to less than 1%.
The main vectors for transmission of the disease are the mosquito species Anopheles gambiae and Anopheles funestus.

Possible measures to combat malaria in Burkina Faso:

  • Distribution campaign called MILDA, which included impregnated mosquito nets with long duration of action (MILDA =Moustiquaires Imprégnées d'Insecticide à Longue Durée d'Action, insecticide)
  • Use of repellents indoors and on clothing.
  • Intermittent preventive treatment of malaria with oral medication of amodiaquine (TPI, Traitement Préventif Intermittent du paludisme) and seasonal malaria chemoprevention (CPS, Chimioprévention du Paludisme Saisonnier). The antimalarial drugs sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine and amodiaquine are administered to prevent infection.
  • Hygiene measures: construction of sewerage systems, cleaning of gutters, modification of water storage methods.
  • Larval control
  • Indoor spraying with insecticides.
  • Distribution of routine mosquito nets to pregnant women and children under one year of age,
  • Strengthening prevention for pregnant women.

Of these methods, the MILDA distribution campaign, the use of repellents, and the preventive treatment methods are working well so far.
The measures to improve hygiene conditions, indoor spraying with insecticides, and larval control have been implemented to a lesser extent. However, these three measures as well as the use of medicinal plants in preventive and curative treatment as well as educational measures for behavioral change should be addressed more intensively.

 

How is the use of Gene Drive technology discussed in your country as compared to other measures to combat malaria? Does the local population understand how the technology works? Do they agree to testing/using this technology? 

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are discussed controversially in Burkina Faso. For example, scientists and consumers have rejected genetically modified cotton.
Gene drives that are not yet in use are a contentious issue. A report by Target Malaria on the release of 6400 genetically modified mosquitoes in July 2019 states that the goal was not to fight malaria, but to test how long these mosquitoes live, how capable they are of adapting to the natural environment, and how they spread.
The citizens of Burkina Faso categorically oppose the future use of this technology. The resistance has made it possible to block a release in 2020. And we will continue to prevent a release. Local people in Burkina Faso know nothing about Gene Drives. Even the scientific community has difficulty understanding this technology. There is no free, prior and informed consent for the release of Gene Drives and there is no legislation on this issue in Burkina Faso.

In conclusion, malaria has become a business model in Africa. It is a health mafia that benefits the pharmaceutical industry and some governments. I strongly doubt the statistics published by the health authorities. To fight malaria in Africa, it is enough to develop a good policy of sanitation, create a plan for the ecological design of cities and villages, preserve ecosystems and biodiversity, increase literacy rates, and ensure virtuous governance in the states.

---

Further interviews have been conducted with:

Andreas Wulf of Medico International, officer in the Berlin office for global health issues, who gives us information about the role of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in international health policy and presents his view on necessary conditions for the implementation of the human right to health in Africa.
Click here for the interview

Pamela J. Weathers, professor and researcher at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, USA, on the efficacy and controversial safety of Artemisia tea infusions for treating or preventing malaria.
Click here for the interview

---

References provided by Mr. Tapsoba:

  1. World Health Organisation (2019). World Malaria Report 2019 World Health Organisation (2019).
  2. USAID President’s Malaria Initiative FY 2019 Burkina Faso Malaria Operational Plan
  3. USAID 2017: Financing of Universal Health Coverage and Family Planning - A Multi-Regional Landscape Study and Analysis of Select West African Countries: Burkina Faso
  4. Universal Health Partnership coverage (2019). http://uhcpartnership.net/country-profile/burkina-faso/(le lien est externe)(link is external)
  5. L’Économiste du Faso 2016
  6. https://www.la-croix.com/Sciences-et-ethique/Le-paludisme-lautre-epidemie-devastatrice-2020-07-17-1201105379
  7. https://www.jeuneafrique.com/654776/societe/burkina-controverse-autour-de-moustiques-ogm-contre-le-paludisme/
  8. https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2018/06/29/des-moustiques-ogm-contre-le-paludisme-le-projet-qui-fait-debat-au-burkina_5323380_3212.html