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.