ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Technoscientific Vision of Advanced Biological Control

The Fight against Mosquitoes

Technoscientific visions deeply inform the envisioning of the public health policy. Currently, multiple approaches are under development in the fight against mosquito-borne diseases, including dengue and chikungunya. Though controversial, the advanced biological control approach has re-emerged as a strong alternative in the last decade and is shaping the trajectory of technological change in the fight against mosquitoes and associated vector-borne diseases. Since these efforts might change the way India manages its huge infectious disease burden in the long term, it is important to understand how certain technoscientific visions and ideas persist even while being controversial. The contestations surrounding technologies employing the advanced biological control approach are examined in an attempt to address this.

On 7 February 2017, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Eliminate Dengue Program (rechristened as the World Mosquito Program (WMP) in September 2017) spearheaded by Scott O’Neill at Monash University, Australia (Outlook 2017). India, thus, became the sixth country after Australia, Vietnam, Brazil, Colombia, and Indonesia to enrol for testing the Wolbachia method as a dengue control strategy. It was an institutional act of signalling potential technological change and evolution in epistemic practices related to dengue vector control in India. It is one of the three technologies—apart from the sterile insect technique and the transgenic mosquito—employing the advanced biological control approach that has been under discussion and experimentation in India. These alternative technologies aim to address the public health concern of vector-borne diseases (VBDs). Of the six VBDs that the Directorate of National Vector-Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP)1 caters to, all barring malaria are recognised as neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Amongst the NTDs spread by mosquitoes, an effective vaccine for Japanese encephalitis (JE) and a strategy of preventive chemotherapy to interrupt transmission of lymphatic filariasis (LF) through mass drug administration (MDA) is available in endemic districts of India. However, there is no specific therapeutics or an effective vaccine available for dengue and chikungunya. Hence, vector control remains the most effective measure. Proposed alternative technologies, thus, become relevant, and this paper primarily focuses on the debates surrounding them.

While, in general, multiple approaches and specific technologies exist to fight against mosquito-borne diseases, namely therapeutics, vaccines, and vector control, each of them are relevant only in a particular context. For vector control or mosquito population control, traditional biological control, environmental control, and chemical control are three major existing approaches employed in the field. While they all offer to achieve specified policy goals and visions, each differs in terms of technological pathways and trajectories. One also sees that, at the policy level, the overarching goal of preventing disease incidences in practice often gets tied to a particular approach. To be sure, a particular approach might itself contain a diversity of strategies and specific technologies competing for the dominant position; a good example being transgenic mosquitoes and the Wolbachia method as competing strategies within the advanced biocontrol approach. Sometimes, the existence of alternative technologies and pathways also gives rise to debate and disagreements manifested through technological controversies. These contestations are not merely disputes about the technical efficacy of a particular technology, but also about the technoscientific vision they embody.

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Updated On : 28th Aug, 2019
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