The World Health Organization (WHO) has backed trials of genetically modified mosquitoes in the fight against the Zika virus. Environmentalists have previously criticized the method due to the unknown long-term effects.
The Geneva-based UN health body said in a statement on Tuesday that controversial methods such as genetically modified mosquitoes may be necessary to wipe out the insects now spreading Zika across the Americas. Cases have also been reported in dozens of countries across Asia and Africa.
"Given the magnitude of the Zika crisis, WHO encourages affected countries and their partners to boost the use of both old and new approaches to mosquito control as the most immediate line of defense," the statement said.
Many scientists believe that a recent spike in babies born with abnormally small heads, a condition known as microcephaly, could be linked to the Zika virus. Although there is no definitive proof that the virus is causing the birth defects, WHO has declared Zika a global emergency.
Following promising trials to fight dengue and yellow fever by other UN agencies, WHO said its Vector Control Advisory Group had recommended further field trials of the technique. Previous tests involved releasing sterile male mosquitoes to mate with wild females.
Some environmentalists have criticized this technique, however, arguing that it is impossible to know the long-term effects of wiping out an entire insect population.
Some 1.5 million people have been infected with the Zika virus in Brazil since early 2015, but only three have died. There is currently no cure or vaccine for Zika, with WHO estimating that development of a immunization might take 18 months.
ksb/kms (Reuters, AP)