Where Kasun Chameera lives in Colombo, everybody knows somebody who has been afflicted with dengue.
For Kasun, it was his brother.
“My brother was infected by it. He suffered a lot from it. For at least 1-2 months, he would be tired walking just ten steps. We were very scared because we knew dengue can bring you death,” says Kasun.
Statistics show that in recent years dengue cases have surged, with more than 40,000 cases most years in the last decade and 186,000 cases in 2017.
There is currently no pill or vaccine to protect you against dengue, and many preventative measures such as smoke and pesticides often have negative side effects for the community. They’re not long-term solutions.
That’s why the World Mosquito Program’s technology is so ground-breaking.
World Mosquito Program scientists found that, by introducing Wolbachia, a natural and harmless bacteria, to the mosquito responsible for spreading dengue, we could prevent them from transmitting the virus to humans.
And by working directly with communities, we can help provide long-term protection against dengue.
With the help of community members, Wolbachia mosquitoes are released into the community where they breed with wild mosquitoes. Over time, most of the mosquito populations are expected to carry Wolbachia and have a reduced ability to transmit the dengue virus.
This safe, cost-effective and self-sustaining technology has been shown to reduce dengue incidence cases by 77% and hospital admissions for dengue by 86%.
When Kasun heard about what the World Mosquito Program was doing to combat dengue, he was determined to be involved. He and his family helped raise awareness of the new method in their community, and were among the first households to collect mosquito samples for the project. They were also one of 3,258 community volunteers who hosted ‘Mozzie Boxes’ containing Wolbachia mosquito eggs.
The World Mosquito Program introduced this measure of fighting dengue in Sri Lanka in March 2020, in partnership with the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health and the National Dengue Control Unit, and supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian High Commission in Colombo.
It has now been piloted in two areas of Colombo – the Municipal Council-District 1 (CMC-D1) and Nugegoda – where dengue rates are high. This initial phase of our work in Colombo wrapped up in June 2021, but its impacts will be monitored over the next five years.
Colombo residents and healthcare staff alike see the Wolbachia method as an exciting, sustainable solution to control the spread of dengue.
The World Mosquito Program has already worked with communities like Kasun’s in 11 countries to implement this safe, cost-effective and self-sustaining solution.
Plans are in place for releases across the Western Province of Sri Lanka, and to gradually expand into other parts of the country and the world.
“When the pilot is successful, which it has been elsewhere so we expect the same here, the Ministry of Health will be able to take this and work with the National Dengue Control Unit to spread this across Sri Lanka to other areas that also have a dengue problem,” says the Australian Deputy High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and Maldives, Victoria Coakley.
“Australia is very proud to be able to share this technology, which was developed in Australia with the World Mosquito Program and in collaboration with one of Australia’s leading universities, Monash University. It’s a sense of pride that our own technology has been developed and we’ve then been able to share that across the world.”
For Sri Lankans like Kasun, the pilot offers hope for a future where communities no longer live in fear of dengue.
“It brings me happiness to think of a dengue-free future.”