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This content is taken from the UNSW Sydney's online course, Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Public Health Dimensions. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds DAVID MUSCATELLO: Hello, I’m Dr David Muscatello. What are the policy and regulation aspects of bioterrorism and biosecurity? There are many dimensions to the regulation of activities that could lead to bioterrorism or unintentional incidents that might lead to the release of harmful biological agents. Countries may be doing research on biological agents for defence or bioweapon development. University researchers might be conducting biological and genetic research that could lead to modification of relatively harmless viruses that make them more harmful. Laboratories that conduct this kind of research need to be regulated to insure handling procedures are safe. There also needs to be governance around how and when such laboratories should be created.

Skip to 1 minute and 2 seconds Ideally there would be strong local and international legal barriers to preventing rogue persons or countries from secretly creating these capabilities. An important tool in international governance of public health activities is the International Health Regulations. The most recent regulations were agreed by member states of the World Health Organisation in 2005. The regulations are aimed at making sure countries take responsibility for preventing the international spread of infectious diseases while limiting the impact on travel and trade between countries. They also specify the reporting responsibilities of countries in relation to events or incidents that may lead to public health emergencies of international concern. Bioterrorism or accidental release of biological agents could be one such event.

Skip to 2 minutes and 5 seconds The International Biological Weapons Convention came into force in 1975. It’s longer name, it’s very long name, is The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological, (or Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction. It’s administered by the United Nations. The convention prohibits countries from engaging in any activity relating to biological agents and toxins that has a purpose that is not for peaceful, preventive or curative purposes. Most, but not all countries, are signatories to the convention. Modern biological research capabilities include the ability to manipulate the genetic material of organisms to alter their characteristics. Some researchers are engaging in research on some infectious pathogens that cause illness in humans.

Skip to 3 minutes and 8 seconds An example might be research that aims to understand how avian influenza viruses, that is bird flu viruses that are not currently easily transmitted between people, could become easily transmitted between people. This research could lead to a better understanding of how viruses cause epidemics and so could help humans. However in the wrong hands, or if they’re accidentally released into the community, this research could have catastrophic consequences. Within countries the regulation of laboratories, hospitals and other facilities that may be exposed to or handle dangerous infectious materials and pathogens is very important. Policies and regulations that ensure the safe handling and that aim to prevent unintentional or criminal release of biological agents are extremely important.

Skip to 4 minutes and 5 seconds Australia, for example, has a regulatory scheme for security sensitive biological agents that is administered by the Australian Department of Health. You can see that ensuring human health and safety in the context of biological agents is a complex, legal and regulatory area with important consequences if it is not done properly.

Policy and ethical issues

In this presentation, we describe the policy and regulatory measures that aim to limit the risk, both locally and globally of bioterrorism. There are many aspects of biosecurity that may be addressed by policy and regulation and we describe some of these. We introduce international regulations that apply to most countries, but not always all. We look at research activities that may introduce additional biosecurity risk, as well as some local level regulatory requirements to limit biosecurity risks.

After watching this video, in the comments section below discuss your answers to the following questions:

Are you able to find any information on regulation of biohazards, security sensitive biological agents, biological weapons or biological laboratories in your country or another country? What are the aims of these regulations?

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This video is from the free online course:

Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Public Health Dimensions

UNSW Sydney