Dengue fever remains a significant concern in Indonesia, particularly during the onset of the rainy season. In a pioneering initiative to combat this health issue, the Ministry of Health (Kemenkes) is rolling out Wolbachia mosquitoes in five key cities across the country.
The targeted cities for the Wolbachia mosquito deployment include Jakarta Barat, Bandung, Semarang, Bontang, and Kupang. This strategic dispersal aligns seamlessly with the Minister of Health of the Republic of Indonesia’s Decree Number 1341, outlining the implementation of the mosquitoes as an innovative measure to address the challenges posed by dengue fever.
Ngabila, a Technical Staff Member of Health Transformation Communication at Kemenkes, underscores that human subjects are not part of any experimental procedures in this program. The mosquitoes undergo no genetic modifications, as Wolbachia is a naturally occurring bacterium in insects. Crucially, it is environmentally friendly and does not disrupt ecosystems or the life cycles of other microorganisms.
Wolbachia acts as a sterilizing agent for Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, effectively interrupting the transmission cycle of dengue fever. The anticipated result is a significant reduction in the occurrence of dengue fever cases.
Ngabila reveals a recurring pattern in the incidence of dengue fever cases in Jakarta, manifesting every three years, specifically in 2016, 2019, and 2022. During non-peak periods, the average monthly cases range from 200 to 300. However, during peak periods, the figures surge to 400 to 600 cases.
Previously tested successfully in nine countries, including Brazil, Australia, Vietnam, Fiji, Vanuatu, Mexico, Kiribati, New Caledonia, and Sri Lanka, Wolbachia technology is now finding application in Indonesia.
Explaining the preventive mechanism involving the distribution of Wolbachia mosquitoes, Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are infected with Wolbachia bacteria, injected directly into their eggs. Wolbachia, a naturally occurring bacterium in insects like butterflies and flies, poses no harm to humans or other animals such as fish, birds, and pets.
Dr. Adam Prabata, a health education advocate, clarifies, “The bacteria injected are not subject to genetic manipulation. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia also remain untouched genetically.”
Dr. Adam outlines two mechanisms through which Wolbachia mosquitoes contribute to the reduction of dengue infection cases. Firstly, male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia mate with uninfected females, resulting in eggs that do not hatch, effectively reducing the mosquito population.
Secondly, Wolbachia bacteria within the body of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes engage in competition with other viruses, such as the dengue virus. This competitive interaction or “resistance” from Wolbachia makes it more challenging for the dengue virus to replicate.
Drawing insights from a study conducted by the World Mosquito Program (WMP) Yogyakarta in Yogyakarta, these mosquitoes have demonstrated a remarkable 77% reduction in dengue infection cases. Additionally, these mosquitoes have proven to slash hospitalization rates due to dengue infection by an impressive 86%.