The death toll due to dengue infection in the country is rising and to date more than 100 people have died and about 33,000 people have been reported to be sickened by the disease. There seems to be no end to the scourge and many more are expected to die or fall seriously ill by this deadly mosquitoe-borne disease, if we do not stop the breeding of Aedes in the endemic areas.
One has to visit a family that has just lost a loved one or one who have just recovered from the deadly dengue infection to understand and appreciate their grief and the scourge of the disease.
Under these circumstances, the recent opposition by certain consumer groups to the health ministry's leading biomedical research institute (IMR) in the region to carry out a limited trial using genetically modified Aedes mosquitoes to curb the spread of the disease is indeed saddening.
Many of the concerns and fears raised with regards to this trial has been somewhat overblown and sometimes appears to be stretching the imagination a little bit too far.
I have been attending several scientific forums and workshops over the years which were also open to the public (including NGO's) where leading scientists from the Institute for Medical Research and Oxford University, UK had spoken in great detail on the proposed transgenic mosquitoes trial.
However, for some reason or other, I noticed those opposing the trial prefer not to attend these scientific forums and seminars and instead they prefer to air their queries and fears over the newspapers creating panic among the layman in the streets.
Those opposing this trial should have made it a point to attend the scientific seminars and forums where leading scientists who are working on this transgenic mosquitoes are presenting their work. In this way it would have been truly beneficial to both parties as all queries and concerns can be directly posed to the scientists. I wonder why those who claim to speak for the public on the subject are shying away from these scientific forums and seminars?
I welcome the genuine concerns raised by environmentalists and nature lovers. However, I cannot help associating some of those who are opposing the trial to be somewhat linked to certain international anti-genetically modified (GMO) campaign activists. Otherwise, why should they not come out in the open and share their concerns in the respective scientific forums?
The success of the application of this novel recombinant DNA technology in controlling the mosquito population may be extended to other pests and this may pose a serious threat to certain industries. As such, the possibility of certain industry players - especially those involved in producing pesticides - in supporting these anti-GMO groups indirectly can not be ruled out either
I therefore urge the authorities concerned especially the cabinet committee on dengue and the National Biosafety Committee to take into consideration among other things the role of the anti- GMO groups and others who may have their own agenda for opposing the trial.
Our scientists have been working on this biotechnology method of controlling the Aedes mosquito for several years before perfecting it for the field trial. We have come this far and all the in-house trials conducted by the IMR scientists show great potential. We have now in our hands the latest method to curb the Aedes menace and save hundreds of lives. It is now up to the authorities to make a decision.
The transgenic Aedes mosquitoes trials planned by the health ministry should only be constrained by scientific rigour and not by ignorance and fear. The health scientists in IMR have done their part. The ball is now in the courts of the approving authorities.