IAEA Fights African Sleeping Sickness

March 30th, 2009 - 5:16 pm ICT by GD  

Africa’s attempts at development have been seriously hindered by the tsetse fly. It is known to cause a fatal disease in cattle and human and experts are now worried that global warming may cause these deadly flies to spread to newer areas. But the International Atomic Energy Agency, in Vienna, has taken up a fight against the spread of the fly and the disease it bears. Scientists say that almost half a million Africans are affected by the Nagana, or the sleeping sickness that is spread by the tsetse fly that survives on the blood of humans and animals. If not treated with medical attention the disease can cause a clow and painful death for its victim.

The African Union is trying to eradicate the fly from its continent and since there is no vaccination available against the disease a number of countries in Africa are using insecticides to do away with the flies. However the IAEA is planning to use radiation to sterilize the male flies and then releasing them in Africa so they can neutralize the population of these flies. Currently the IAEA is working in 14 African countries and has plans to expand to more.

According to Udo Feldman, an entomologist at the IAEA, “Unfortunately, it is the poorest countries that are infected. If you have a look at the World Bank map showing the heavily indebted poor countries, there are 34. Thirty-two of them are tsetse infected areas in Africa. So it is really a problem at the root of rural poverty that we are trying to [tackle].” H also said that new countries, including Botswana voluntarily joined the IAEA to access the sterilization program of male flies.

The program does not have a 100% chance of success, as Feldman continues, “We are not suggesting to use the sterile insect technique for all countries. It has certain advantages against species where other techniques have difficulty. Where, for example, the vegetation is so dense that insecticide applications do not reach the flies. This is where we combine conventional suppression activities with the sterile insect techniques.”

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