Ugandan stakeholder hopes and concerns about gene drive mosquitoes for malaria control: New directions for gene drive risk governance

Sarah Hartley*, Robert D.J. Smith, Adam Kokotovich, Chris Opesen, Tibebu Habtewold, Katie Ledingham, Ben Raymond, Charles B. Rwabukwali

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: The African Union’s High-Level Panel on Emerging Technologies identified gene drive mosquitoes as a priority technology for malaria elimination. The first field trials are expected in 5–10 years in Uganda, Mali or Burkina Faso. In preparation, regional and international actors are developing risk governance guidelines which will delineate the framework for identifying and evaluating risks. Scientists and bioethicists have called for African stakeholder involvement in these developments, arguing the knowledge and perspectives of those people living in malaria-afflicted countries is currently missing. However, few African stakeholders have been involved to date, leaving a knowledge gap about the local social-cultural as well as ecological context in which gene drive mosquitoes will be tested and deployed. This study investigates and analyses Ugandan stakeholders’ hopes and concerns about gene drive mosquitoes for malaria control and explores the new directions needed for risk governance.

Methods: This qualitative study draws on 19 in-depth semi-structured interviews with Ugandan stakeholders in 2019. It explores their hopes for the technology and the risks they believed pertinent. Coding began at a workshop and continued through thematic analysis.

Results: Participants’ hopes and concerns for gene drive mosquitoes to address malaria fell into three themes: (1) ability of gene drive mosquitoes to prevent malaria infection; (2) impacts of gene drive testing and deployment; and, (3) governance. Stakeholder hopes fell almost exclusively into the first theme while concerns were spread across all three. The study demonstrates that local stakeholders are able and willing to contribute relevant and important knowledge to the development of risk frameworks.

Conclusions: International processes can provide high-level guidelines, but risk decision-making must be grounded in the local context if it is to be robust, meaningful and legitimate. Decisions about whether or not to release gene drive mosquitoes as part of a malaria control programme will need to consider the assessment of both the risks and the benefits of gene drive mosquitoes within a particular social, political, ecological, and technological context. Just as with risks, benefits—and importantly, the conditions that are necessary to realize them—must be identified and debated in Uganda and its neighbouring countries.
Original languageEnglish
Article number149
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalMalaria Journal
Volume20
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2021

Keywords

  • gene drive mosquitoes
  • malaria control
  • risk assessment
  • risk governance
  • stakeholders
  • target malaria
  • Uganda

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