Global Health Workers, Police Can’t Handle Bioterror
Reported by Joe Pappalardo
The world community is trying to prepare for a bioterrorism event,
but planning for one is posing a major challenge to law enforcement
and health professionals. Identifying a deliberate outbreak and
catching those responsible will take organization and money that
currently falls short, experts admitted.
While the United Nations has agencies which have the primary responsibility
for monitoring and verifying a chemical or nuclear attack, there
is no similar global organization to deal with a biological attack,
said Ottorino Cosivi, head of the WHO’s preparedness for deliberate
Bioterrorism events would have a global impact, “do not respect
national boundaries,” and require a worldwide response, Cosivi
told the International Conference of Biosafety and Biorisks in March.
It is up to the World Health Organization to provide surveillance,
assist nations’ efforts to strengthen their health systems
to identify deliberate outbreaks and issue guidelines to keep technical
information compatible during a crisis. Naturally occurring outbreaks,
however, are not part of the WHO mandate, as specified by the World
Health Assembly. That makes identifying the source of an outbreak
important, in terms of law enforcement and medical response.
The WHO relies on the Global Public Health Intelligence Network
(GPHIN) to identify and verify potential outbreaks. GPHIN continuously
monitors more than 10,000 sources of information worldwide, chiefly
from media accounts, looking for indications of an outbreak. Alerts
are then filtered by analysts and disseminated to subscribers around
the globe, who can then investigate. The system is responsible for
the initial reporting of approximately half of all reported events
of potential public health concern to the WHO.
To create a better net to catch emerging threats, the WHO’s
Office for National Epidemic Preparedness and Response, headquartered
in Lyon, France, is coordinating an effort to prepare medical laboratories
for specific, likely bioterror agents.
The bad news is that there are no designated funds for this effort;
it will be financed through grants and contributions from sources
such as foundations and national budgets.
As far as catching those responsible, police across the globe are
likewise unprepared for such investigations, according to Ronald
Noble, secretary general of Interpol.
“There is no criminal threat with greater potential danger
to all countries, regions and people in the world than the threat
of bio-terrorism,” he said. “And there is no crime area
where the police generally have as little training as they do as
in preventing or responding to bio-terrorist attacks.”