Status of World-Level Laboratory Biorisk Essay

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The response by the United States to biorisk management at the national level provides a useful example of what can be accomplished with the right resources and vision. For instance, in December 2009, the U.S. government published its "National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats," representing the basic framework for the U.S. response to emerging bioterrorism threats. In the State of the Union address in 2010, President Barack Obama mentioned the National Strategy as an approach that "will give us the capacity to respond faster and more effectively to bioterrorism or an infectious disease." The implementation and oversight of this initiative is the responsibility of the U.S. Department of State's Biosecurity Engagement Program (BEP). This agency is tasked with promoting the National Strategy through efforts targeted at improving biorisk management and infectious disease surveillance practices around the world. To this end, the BEP has strengthened its commitment to the African continent, including countries in North Africa, the Horn of Africa, as well as the South Africa. In addition, the BEP has launched programs in those regions that are characterized by the highest terrorism and infectious disease outbreak threats, with West Africa and the Congo Basin being preeminent among these regions (Jenkins, 2011).

At the national level, the U.S. strategy for biorisk management is focused on a two-fold approach that uses indirect, preventative measures based on the goals of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), which are (a) collaboration with State Parties to improve the security of laboratories that work with dangerous pathogens and (b) to improve global disease surveillance (e.g., the ability to detect and rapidly contain outbreaks of infectious disease, whether they are natural, accidental, or deliberate in origin) (Tucker, 2010). According to Tucker (2010), the 23-page National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats document was distributed all of the members of the annual meeting of states-parties to the BWC in Geneva in December 2009. Whereas the Bush administration's biosecurity policies focused on mitigating the consequences of a biological attack through a major investment in threat assessment research, early-detection systems such as BioWatch, the development of medical countermeasures under Project BioShield in 2004, and other domestic preparedness measures, the Obama strategy places a far greater emphasis on prevention (Pupura, 2007). Noting the two-phase approach used for the Bioshield initiative, Mayer (2007) adds that, "The [Bioshield I and II] proposals offered a sweeping array of reforms to coordinate national biodefense efforts and stimulate private development of medical countermeasures for deadly biowarfare agents" (p. 1753).


Without aggressive action today, the same innovations in biotechnology that have taken place in recent years may become humankind's doom in the future. Today, there is a compelling need to develop a thoughtful balance between promoting the exploitation of biotechnologies for human development and preventing its redirection for alternative uses, but the experiences to date suggest that this is a challenging enterprise from the outset. This balance, though, is far less significant compared to the challenges in the future. The international security community today must respond to the rapid acceleration and movement of dual-use knowledge by the globalization-fueled quest to be more competitive and to replenish its drying drug development pipelines (Finlay, 2010). Moreover, as the industry develops additional dual-use technologies that are shared with nations that lack the capability or wherewithal to secure their biotechnological resources and facilities, there will be a concomitant increase in the potential for intentional or unintentional, anthropomorphic or natural, biological incidents. Clearly, there is a growing need for a timely and informed approach to biorisk management that conforms to the provisions of IHR 2005 and the Biological Weapons Convention. For this purpose, World Health Organization's Emerging and Dangerous Pathogens Laboratory Network offers a viable framework in which to provide the technical expertise that emerging nations need to help them secure their biological resources and facilities, but time is of the essence and there is no room for false starts (Finlay, 2010). Such timely responses will also require adequate contingency plans for the control of release of information and the potential for panic, rioting and looting among affected populations.


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Jenkins, B. (2011, January/February). Adapting to the times: the evolution of U.S. threat reduction programs. Arms Control Today, 41(1), 14-16.

Mayer, L. (2007). Immunity for immunizations: Tort liability, Biodefense, and Bioshield II.

Stanford Law Review, 59(6),…[continue]

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