Environmental, social, economic and health impact assessment (ESHIA) for a field study of a self-limiting nondrive strain of genetically modified mosquitoes on behalf of Target Malaria
Genetically modified mosquitoes (GMMs) represent great potential for malaria control in the future. Target Malaria – a vector control research alliance based at the Imperial College in London – aims to develop genetic technologies to modify mosquitoes with the ultimate goal to reduce malaria transmission. Target Malaria uses a three-phased approach in this 170-million project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Open Philantropy. Phase 1, the release of genetically modified sterile males (non-gene drive) in a rural setting in Burkina Faso was completed in 2019. Phase 2 is currently in planning and the mosquitoes at this stage are modified in that (i) they have ~95% of male offspring (male bias) and (ii) the modification is on an autosome, not on a sex chromosome. Therefore, the gene modification is only transmitted to 50% of the offspring and thus dies out (self-limiting, non-gene drive). In a third phase, a gene drive will be explored where the two most promising options are fertile males that produce predominantly male offspring and sterile females.
For this phase 2, as part of the regulatory process and in order to apply best practices, a comprehensive Environmental, Social, Economic and Health Impact Assessment (ESHIA) is required by the Burkina Faso regulator and the implementing institutions. The Health Impact Assessment and Vector Control research groups of Swiss TPH have formed a consortium with INSUCO (social impact assessment expertise) and Oryx Expertise (environmental impact assessment expertise) to undertake this ESHIA. The goal of the ESHIA is to comprehensively assess and anticipate any potential environmental, socio-economic and health effects that this project has on the local environment and the population as well as to design a management and monitoring plan for the identified impacts. This fully integrated impact assessment will be the first of its kind for genetically modified mosquitoes and is an important part of the ethical and biosafety considerations indispensable for such a project.