Addressing the Biosecurity Governance Challenges Posed by the Ebola Epidemic
On 10 November 2016, as a side event to the 8th Review Conference of the Biological and Toxin Weapon Convention (BWTC), the GCSP co-organised a panel discussion jointly with VERTIC and the Global Emerging Pathogens Treatment (GET) Consortium with the support of the UK Government and the International Law and Policy Institute (ILPI).
The topic was "Adressing the Biosecurity Governance: Challenges Posed by the Ebola Epidemic". The event was chaired by Dr Lorna Miller (UK Delegation).
Dr Akin Abayomi, Professor in the Department of Pathology in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, explained how the Ebola-stricken region was previously affected by poverty, insufficient infrastructure, failing governance and conflict, which contributed to the rapid spread of the disease. As part of the response, largely by international actors, some 300,000 samples were collected, some of which are still not accounted for. This major risk required the introduction of guidelines and accountability, especially in view of attempts by non-state armed groups to seek access to pathogens for use as weapons. The Bio-banking and Biosecurity Gap Project, supported by the GET Consortium, helped secure samples, develop adequate legislation, and establish national repositories.
Mr Scott Spence, Programme Director, VERTIC, London (also GCSP Associate Fellow), recalled the activities carried out by his organization to strengthen global capacity to implement the International Health Regulations and the BWTC, introduce biosecurity and biosafety legislation and regulations, and contribute to the prevention of unauthorized use of biological agents. In the Ebola-stricken region, in particular in Sierra Leone, this included analysis of legislative gaps, the drafting of a model law, including detailed provisions on storage, transport, transfer controls, brokering, and disposal of dangerous pathogens and toxins.
Mr Marc Finaud, Senior Programme Advisor, GCSP, recalled the book published by GCSP in 2008: “Global Biosecurity: Towards a New Governance Paradigm”. He outlined the recommendations then proposed but still relevant, in particular on the need for a multi-stakeholder, multi-disciplinary, and multilateral approach of biosecurity, taking into account the whole spectrum of the biorisk (from natural outbreaks to accidental release and deliberate, hostile use of pathogens). He pointed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a new framework for guidance: indeed if all states strengthened their preparedness and capacity to respond effectively to naturally occurring diseases, this would make deliberate use of pathogens less attractive to potential perpetrators.