Gates-funded Target Malaria disregards local opposition to testing and exploits locals through questionable experiments that have exposed them to malaria
This highly readable article, highlighting some of the disturbing aspects of Target Malaria’s gene-drive project in Burkina Faso, comes from an unusual source – a website promoting biohacking.
Biohackers are generally viewed as extremely cavalier about risks in relation to areas of biotechnology like self-administered gene therapy and germline genetic engineering – areas that for most people raise big red flags. So it’s interesting that even they view Target Malaria’s project with alarm.
Secrecy, threats and ethics violations as the Pentagon tests Gene Drives in West Africa
Biohackinfo News, 16-Dec-2018
[links to sources at this URL]
As the cult of institutional science continues to deride Dr. He Jiankui for producing the world’s first gene-edited babies using CRISPR, there is actual violations of ethics involving CRISPR and other unethical practices unfolding in the West African country of Burkina Faso. Gross violations that the same voices decrying the birth of HIV-resistant twins à la Dr. He – have either turned a blind eye to, or embellished and supported.
Mosquitoes carrying a ‘gene drive’ engineered using CRISPR-Cas9, are set to be released in Burkina Faso by the year 2022.
Gene Drives increase the inheritance probability of a modified gene, taking the usual 50/50 inheritance probability of a given gene by up to 99%. They are particularly thought to be effective as a form of ‘extinction technology’ where over generations, a trait detrimental to an organism can be spread within its population at a rapid pace.
This ‘extinction technology’ application of gene drives is what will be tested in Burkina Faso. The first stage of the test begins next year with the release of sterile genetically-modified male mosquitoes. Following this test will be the release of the gene drive mosquitoes.
In charge of this project is Target Malaria, a consortium funded by Bill Gates and the Pentagon’s research wing, DARPA. Although DARPA claims to be only involved through funding under its so-called ‘safe-genes’ program, it also oversees most of the lab work.
Whatever DARPA’s actual role is, the involvement of the US military in testing an extinction technology that can easily be weaponized into a weapon of mass extinction, is very troubling.
But more troubling than the United States Department of Defense overseeing the testing of extinction technology in another country, is Target Malaria ignoring all concerns about gene drives, completely disregarding local opposition to the testing, and exploiting locals through questionable experiments that have exposed them to malaria; all for the sake of seeing its multi-million dollar project come to term.
Target Malaria has also been carrying out most of its testing with a lack of transparency while using campaigns of misinformation and PR firms to paint a different picture of what is really happening in Burkina Faso.
Kenyan-Canadian journalist and researcher Zahra Moloo led an independent investigation in Burkina Faso to find out what was really happening.
First off, when the investigation commenced, it became apparent that Target Malaria controls the narrative about what it does in Burkina Faso – in regards to both its tests and local outreach. There was unwarranted regulation of access to the locals Target Malaria claims to have done outreach with. For example, any attempts to enter the villages marked for GMO mosquito release without Target Malaria’s approval were denied.
“Our own inquiries found that journalists who had attempted to reach the village of Bana and Sourkoudingan independently of Target Malaria were unsuccessful.” Moloo’s report states.
The hostility Moloo’s team ran into was peculiar as Burkinabé culture is generally hospitable. At one point a group even threatened to burn their car. The journalists later learned those who issued the threats had received a call from the capital, Ouagadougou.
Also uncovered by the investigation is the fact that contrary to what Target Malaria claims, many villagers including inhabitants of Bobo-Dioulasso – Burkina Faso’s second largest city, are not just opposed to both the gene drive and next year’s release of GMO mosquitoes, but they are largely unaware of the details and the risks posed.
“Our findings indicate that many people in Bobo-Dioulasso, Bana and the neighboring village of Nasso, are concerned about the potential impacts of Target Malaria’s project and about the absence of risk assessment, and are unaware of many of the details of the project, including where the funding for the project comes from.”
And those in the city and the surrounding region that Target Malaria had somewhat fully engaged with in regards to the release of GMO mosquitoes – like the ‘Coordinating Body of Women of the Hauts-Bassins Region,’ a significant number unanimously rejected the release.
As for authorities, it seems Target Malaria has established deep connections within high echelons of Burkina Faso’s government. High ranking government officials were not comfortable speaking on camera – and just repeated what appeared to be rehearsed policy buzzlines about “malaria prevention.” However, local government officials like mayors echoed the sentiments of locals by either opposing or having concerns about the project.
Opposition to the entire gene drive experiment by Target Malaria even resulted in protests by peasants and farmers in Ougadougou – that drew protesters from other West African countries like Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Benin. There has been little to no coverage of these protests by international media.
Despite all the confusion, and opposition to both the gene drive and next year’s release of GMO mosquitoes, Target Malaria has completely disregarded all this indigenous resistance and touted the African Union’s almost unanimous approval of gene drives as a pass to carry out its questionable experiments with impunity.
But the African Union itself did not consult citizens of its respective member states. It’s also interesting to note that since 2011, the AU’s budget has increasingly been from the European Union, and militarily the AU is largely under AFRICOM‘s influence. So the rigidly top-down bureaucratic body is not exactly a paragon of African sovereignty.
Then there is the issue of informed consent. In a short period of time, Target Malaria claims to have carried out workshops to satisfactorily inform locals about a technology as complex and uncertain as gene drives. But in Burkina Faso, basic public knowledge about malaria is still largely lacking. For example, some people believe malaria is contracted through bad food.
So the idea of “informed consent” in regards to gene drive technology – with this backdrop of incomplete local information about malaria, is very problematic. Even in parts of the world with easy access to information, gene drive tech is still largely out of grasp for most lay people.
With the contentious issue of informed consent in mind, it has also been uncovered that many locals did not sign any consent forms at all! Meanwhile, bioethicists are still raging about the particulars of Dr. He’s consent forms when there’s entire communities that did not consent to an unproven experiment that is going to drastically change their ecology forever.
On top of this, Target Malaria also misled villagers into thinking that next year’s release of GMO mosquitoes will stop malaria!
This release of GMO mosquitoes is particularly problematic as it has recently emerged that it’s not just sterile GMO male mosquitoes that will be released, but also female biting mosquitoes – which pose a threat to humans. Target Malaria has not been transparent enough as to why this is the case, and has merely issued reassurances claiming that only a few female mosquitoes will be released.
And it seems that once Target Malaria got away with these reassurances, it realized it could operate with total impunity. The consortium has banked on the poverty of locals to use an unethical financial incentive to get “volunteers” to catch mosquitoes by exposing their legs and arms to wild mosquito bites for as long as six hours a night. The volunteers are paid less than a dollar a night to endure this, and risk catching malaria and other diseases.
Some people have actually caught malaria from this. According to Moloo’s report; “A counselor from the village neighboring Bana, Nasso, said that his cousin who lives in Bana village was used as a ‘guinea pig’ to catch mosquitoes – in other words, he would have to sit in a chair and catch the mosquitoes as they landed on his skin. He subsequently caught malaria.”
Finally, there is the empirical elephant in the room: There is no evidence at all that a gene drive will eliminate malaria, and gene drive mosquitoes have no public health benefit whatsoever. So to push ahead with launching a gene drive where not just human lives are involved, but entire ecological systems will be disrupted, is either dangerously reckless or purposely malevolent.
There are countries where malaria has recently been eliminated, but it would seem that effective solutions which involve local input and improvements to public health, are being brushed aside so the Pentagon can carry out its experimentation.
Unlike most controversial technologies, once a gene drive is launched, it cannot be put to a halt. In the case of Burkina Faso, there is no infrastructure and mechanisms to regulate the consequences if things go awry, and for neighboring countries, this is something they will just have to deal with as mosquitoes do not abide by borders. And if the gene drive does really work, no one has any idea what the ecological effects will be when the targeted mosquitoes go extinct. If the intention of this non-transparent project is to actually wipe out malaria, it is a total gamble that is not justifiable.
For some reason, this project that is supposed to be geared towards ending malaria is shrouded in secrecy. There is almost no visible nuanced criticism of the project from mainstream media as bioethicists and institutional scientists continue to sit back and watch Bill Gates carry out what appears to be his vanity crusade and whatever it is the Pentagon hopes to gather from the experiments.
Why is the Pentagon, given its history and role as a military aggressor in the region, testing gene drives? And why is there a rush to push this? How have all the hurdles that other less controversial emerging technologies meet been so effortlessly jumped? Why the obstinacy to see gene drives tested in Africa – particularly given revelations that the Bill Gates Foundation went to great lengths by using lobbyists to manipulate UN policy on gene drives? Why have all the concerns of Burkina Faso’s civil society been completely ignored? And why is no issue being raised about locals being exposed to malaria all in the name of Mengelesque experiments to stop malaria? It would seem that the people of Burkina Faso are guinea pigs, and that’s fine.
A representative of African civil societies had this to say about the project: “As Africans, we do not wish to be lab-rats for Target Malaria’s experiments. We refuse to be guinea pigs for their misguided disruption of our food systems and ecology.”