He explained that African leaders proposed the campaign during an African Union meeting held at Lome, Togo in 2000 in an effort to control the effects of sleeping sickness, which is prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Scientists in Uganda have embarked on the technology called Sterile Male Insect Technique through which they breed tsetse flies, pick out the males and radiate them using nuclear technology to make them sterile before releasing them into the wilderness. Once they mate with female tsetse flies they make them sterile too. Frederick Luyimbazi, the Assistant Commissioner for Entomology in the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries told Uganda Radio Network that the initiative, which is part of the Pan African Tsetse and Trypanomosiasis Eradication Campaign is taking place at the National Livestock Resources Research Institute (NaLIRRI), Tororo, Eastern Uganda.
He explained that African leaders proposed the campaign during an African Union meeting held at Lome, Togo in 2000 in an effort to control the effects of sleeping sickness, which is prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa. Luyimbazi explained that several control options such as bush clearing, game hunting, insecticide treated-tsetse traps and insecticide application on livestock have been used in the past but they remained largely ineffective prompting the need to research for a most effective technology. As a result, he said they have adopted the Sterile Male Insect Technique to be used in addition to the previous control options to target the tsetse fly remnants that have survived the rest of the control activities.
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Luyimbazi said they hope the initiative would be effective in controlling the reproduction of the flies, which he said lay an egg every 9 days. He added that the bred male tsetse flies were also treated to ensure they would no longer transmit the disease besides rendering the females infertile.
He added that they hope to embark on the first demonstration using the bred flies in 2014 on two Islands in Kalangala district. By that time, he said they hoped to have bred a considerable number of flies that would outnumber the wild tsetse flies. He added that they would be forced to import some more flies should the facility fail to produce a desirable number.
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Luyimbazi explained that the facility in Tororo has capacity to breed half a million tsetse flies adding that currently the number is less having begun the activity less than a year ago. He however, described the project as a simple but powerful technique. He also allayed any fears about the effect of the nuclear materials saying they are regulated and guided by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the global body that monitors the usage of nuclear power.
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Gilbert Mugenyi, the Global Information System expert emphasized the need for patience while using the technology saying the delicate process of breeding the tsetse flies requires more time. He explained that the same technique has been used in other countries to control fruit flies adding that in future it could also be applied to fight mosquitoes and reduce the prevalence of malaria.
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The use of nuclear energy to control tsetse fly breeding in Uganda is a new addition to the list of radioactive technology uses in the country that include medical and industrial applications. The use of nuclear energy in Uganda is regulated by the Atomic Energy Council, set up by an Act in 2008. The country has been a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency since 1967.