Most support GM mosquito initiative, says survey

Oxitec's Heidi Groves releases genetically modified mosquitoes in West Bay recently. - Photo: Charles Duncan

A new government survey found most people on Grand Cayman support the ongoing trial of genetically modified mosquitoes in West Bay.

Oxitec, which developed the GM mosquitoes, and Cayman’s Mosquito Research and Control Unit began releasing the mosquitoes last month after a lawsuit aiming to stop the project failed in the Grand Court.

If the research trial is successful at reducing the number of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, responsible for spreading Zika, dengue and chikungunya, the mosquitoes will be released across Grand Cayman.

The Public Health Department confirmed two locally transmitted cases of the Zika virus, a disease known to cause severe birth defects, last week.

“The MRCU uses the best tools available in the fight against Aedes aegypti. The deployment of the most advanced techniques available, including Oxitec’s Friendly Aedes aegypti, is firmly in the public health interest, as the traditionally used tools have proven to have limitations in effectiveness,” MRCU Director Bill Petrie said in a press release.

“The subsequent wider expansion of this project throughout Grand Cayman is expected to benefit all residents and visitors. The appearance of Zika virus in Grand Cayman adds to the need to implement this programme without delay,” he added.

The poll involved 800 in-person interviews by an independent polling company, according to government. The poll was commissioned just days before a lawsuit delayed the mosquito release.

Oxitec’s Richard Adey, regional manager for the company in the Caribbean, told the Cayman Compass by email that 239 of the households in the poll were in West Bay.

“We are really pleased to learn of the level of support as revealed by the survey. Aedes aegypti and the diseases it transmits are a concern to the people in Cayman, and the large majority of people are happy that steps are being taken. The community engagement campaign will continue, to ensure we reach as many as possible,” he said.

The survey found that almost 70 percent of the people on Grand Cayman said they were either worried or very worries about dengue, chikungunya and Zika.

Sixty-nine percent of people surveyed supported the Oxitec GM mosquito project, and 72 percent of West Bay respondents supported the project. On Grand Cayman, 13 percent said they opposed the project, though the survey did not ask about the reasons for their opposition.