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Biosecurity is a complex web

We are first going to lay the groundwork of what is meant by biosecurity and bioterrorism, and how they are placed within the wider complex web of society, health and security.

Biosecurity is, defined most simply, all of the things that we undertake to protect humans and animals from disease and harmful biological agents. They can include human resources, research, procedures, policies, actions, monitoring, health interventions and many other things. Biosecurity is rarely achieved through implementation of a single thing, rather being the combination of efforts of numerous people, organisations, strategies and events.

Outbreaks such as pandemics or epidemics are sometimes the result of failures of normal measures for biosecurity without deliberate intent. They may be the result of:

  • The breakdown in a health systems ability to protect a population against harmful biological agents
  • An accident when dealing with a harmful biological agent or substance, leading to release
  • Errors in the handling of materials contaminated with harmful biological agents, such as waste
  • The natural emergence of a new harmful biological agent in a susceptible population

In practice, the complex interactions of the above factors lead to the emergence of unexpected hazards and opportunities that influence the risk management of biological agents.

Understanding the complexity of biosecurity through the conduct of research activities exploring the impact of policy, regulatory and technological solutions to biosecurity has been the primary goal of numerous individuals and organisations globally for a number of decades. The biosecurity concerns raised by epidemics such as the 2014 West African Ebola epidemic, and from climate change, rising global population, resource depletion, political and economic instability have significantly increased recently.

Failures of biosecurity can have profound impacts on:

  • Economies
  • Populations
  • Travel
  • Politics
  • Welfare
  • Healthcare
  • Military forces
  • Vulnerable populations (such as refugees and displaced persons)

Recent commentaries and events have highlighted that biosecurity efforts require ongoing support and effort due to the highly varied and unpredictable nature of the next emerging biosecurity threat.

After reading this article, discuss the answer to this question in the comments section below:

Can you think of any recent biological events that fall within one of the above causes of broad biosecurity events?

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This article is from the free online course:

Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Public Health Dimensions

UNSW Sydney