THE Philippines and the United States co-chaired an important workshop with an incredibly unwieldy name from August 26 to August 28 here in Manila.
The Asean Regional Forum’s (ARF) Cross-Sectoral Security Cooperation on Bio-Preparedness and Disaster Response Workshop brought together 150 professionals in public health, defense, law enforcement, and disaster preparedness planning from ARF member countries.
The participants discussed prospects for a regional response to pandemics and bio-terrorism attacks.
Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for Asean Luis T. Cruz, giving the formal closing remarks at the workshop, said: “The response to a biological event must involve everyone, not just governments. When pandemics or biological attacks are at our doorstep, an effective response will rely on a responsible and informed citizenry.”
The workshop produced a draft template for national guidelines on bio-preparedness. The participants tested the template in a simulation exercise involving the global spread of an unknown virus. The template was designed to aid members in the crafting or in improving their own national bio-preparedness plans. It will be offered for use in future disaster preparedness planning exercises of the Asean Regional Forum.
Representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), and Manila-based European Union Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Center of Excellence (EU CBRN CoE) Regional Secretariat in Southeast Asia were also on hand to discuss their work during the workshop.
The Asean Regional Forum brings together 27 members from the Asia-Pacific region for multilateral dialogue on commonly held security concerns. The Philippines has co-chaired annual bio-preparedness workshops with the US since 2009, in support of the counter-terrorism and transnational crime (CTTC) and non-proliferation and disarmament (NPD) priority areas of the ARF.
What are ‘biological threats’?
Below is the US National Counter-Terrorism Center’s helpful definition of “biological threats.”
“Biological agents are organisms or toxins that can kill or incapacitate people, livestock and crops. A biological attack is the deliberate release of germs or other biological substances that can make you sick.
“The three basic groups of biological agents that would likely be used as weapons are bacteria, viruses and toxins. Most biological agents are difficult to grow and maintain. Many break down quickly when exposed to sunlight and other environmental factors, while others, such as anthrax spores, are very long lived. Biological agents can be dispersed by spraying them into the air, by infecting animals that carry the disease to humans and by contaminating food and water. Delivery methods include:
“Aerosols – biological agents are dispersed into the air, forming a fine mist that may drift for miles. Inhaling the agent may cause disease in people or animals.
“Animals – some diseases are spread by insects and animals, such as fleas, mice, flies, mosquitoes and livestock.
“Food and water contamination – some pathogenic organisms and toxins may persist in food and water supplies. Most microbes can be killed, and toxins deactivated, by cooking food and boiling water. Most microbes are killed by boiling water for one minute, but some require longer. Follow official instructions.
“Person-to-person – spread of a few infectious agents is also possible. Humans have been the source of infection for smallpox, plague, and the Lassa viruses.”
We should all learn how to help combat these biological threats, particularly now that the world faces the danger of the Ebola virus going pandemic and of viruses and bacteria being used by terrorists.