With its densely-packed houses, Brazil's Complexo da Maré is an area vulnerable to outbreaks of dengue fever. By raising mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia bacteria, local children are helping eliminate the disease
Children are helping combat dengue fever in Brazil’s favelas by breeding Aedes aegypti mosquitoes – the very insect which spreads the disease.
These mosquitoes, however, are different. They’re infected with Wolbachia bacteria under a pioneering initiative from the World Mosquito Program (WMP).
Wolbachia cripples the insects’ ability to transmit blood-borne viruses like dengue, Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever. The bacteria is spread by releasing captive mosquitoes to breed with wild populations.
Dengue infects almost 400 million people a year worldwide, killing tens of thousands. Brazil is the worst affected nation on the planet, and its densely populated favelas – often with poor sanitation – are particularly vulnerable to infectious disease.
Community engagement is seen as essential to the success of the WMP’s ‘Wolbachia method’. In Brazil, outreach into schools has been realised through the Wolbito na escola (Wolbito at school) programme, which trains educators to teach students how Wolbachia can be used to combat mosquito-borne disease.
The learning continues at home, too. In Rio’s Complexo da Maré – a sprawl of 16 favelas home to 130,000 people – children are rearing the Wolbachia infected bugs in empty margarine tubs.
I think it should be replicated in other places, here in Brazil, Africa, anywhere in the world it works
Enthused by the programme’s success, community representative Lucia Cabral, from Rio’s Complexo do Alemão favela, said: “I think it should be replicated in other places, here in Brazil, Africa, anywhere in the world it works.”
The WMP has reached almost 2.5 million people in Brazil since 2017, and protected 10 million people worldwide across 11 countries and three continents.
WMP epidemiologist and director of impact assessment Dr Katie Anders said: “This self-sustaining, safe and cost effective method gives communities long term resilience against the multiple diseases transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.”
Main image: Brazilian pupil. Courtesy of World Mosquito Program