Dual Perspectives on The International Landscape of Biodefense: New Terrain

Enjoy dual perspectives on this captivating talk by two biodefense MS students, Mariam Awad and Anthony Falzarano.

Part I – By Anthony Falzarano 
The increased attention to Biodefense by both the United States Government as well as other world governments has largely been spurred by advancements in knowledge and intelligence of various threats in the post-9/11 world. While these threats may be from natural or man-made infectious disease events, they all share a similar connection in that pathogenic diseases do not respect borders or political lines. This session featured speakers from the United States Department of State, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center. These entities are working both together and in parallel to address the biosecurity risks posed against our country and to the world.

The US State Department addresses Biodefense largely through the Biosecurity Engagement Program (BEP). As Siddha Hover-Page, representative and presenter from the US State Department said, BEP works in three factors: Terror interest in bioweapons, dangerous pathogens, and bioscience capability and containment. She noted that naturally occurring diseases are typically the highest priority, but that it is also always a priority of the government to gather intel on and track terrorist groups or state actors who may be interested in deploying a biological weapon. In addition to the three pillars of the BEP, she spoke about the program’s extensive role in the Middle East and areas of Africa, in the roles of disease detection and response, and in scientist engagement.

While the US Department of State supports programs aimed at deterring and countering biological weapon use, the premier biological weapons nonproliferation agency for the US and her allies is the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), according to the second speaker on this panel, Dr. Gavin Braustein. DTRA, Braustein says, heavily supports biosurveillance initiatives to help track diseases and provide epidemiological data, biosafety and security to promote worldwide safe and secure research, and engages in cooperative research efforts which largely support One Health initiatives. Braustein spoke extensively about how the first and foremost priority of DTRA is to focus on the select pathogens which are of interest and concern to the United States, and to address them by implementing programs which not only help detection and tracking of them worldwide, but also assist other governments in doing safe and responsible research for their own protection.

Finally, Dr. Calvin Chue spoke about the globally-collaborative programs supported by the Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center (ECBC), colloquially called “security through sharing.” According to Chue, ECBC regularly engages in science diplomacy – exchange programs including knowledge sharing, data sharing and analysis exchange, sharing of scientists and researchers, and the exchange of materials, protocols, equipment and organism strains. These collaborative efforts, Chue says, help countries to not only be transparent and supportive of the research with ultimately benefits the whole planet, but also provides a way for knowledge to be easily shared and governments to check and balance the research being done worldwide to promote responsible research initiatives.

This panel highlighted just a few of the myriad of ways that the United States Government works collaboratively and transparently with other governments and agencies around the world. Both One Health and science diplomacy have a very intimate, integral part in developing the entire world towards the capacity to prevent, detect and effectively respond to infectious disease threats, no matter the type, source, or location on the globe.

Part II – By Mariam Awad 
We are as strong as our weakest link. This phrase drives the purpose for the United States biodefense international efforts. During this talk, speakers addressed both bilateral and multilateral research projects in various regions around the world led by various US agencies including the State Department and DTRA. The objectives of these research projects are to increase global biosafety and biosecurity efforts. Some of the research projects aim to increase electronic surveillance reporting, early-detection of disease and collection of a world-wide select agent list. In Azerbaijan, researchers are working towards investigating mosquito and tick populations abundant in the south eastern region of the country. In Kazakhstan, the United States is working with a local team to conduct molecular characterization and genome sequencing of new castle disease virus strains native to that region. In addition, the US military is working on several projects in Jordan and Georgia to increase information and data sharing as well as strengthen material transfer and exchange programs for scientists to collaborate and learn about how to safely conduct bio/chem related research. An example of an on-going multilateral project is a collaboration between scientists in Turkey, Georgia and Armenia with US guidance focused on understanding the risk of bat-borne zoonotic disease emergence in western Asia. The discussion ended by addressing some of the difficulties with working on multi-lateral projects. “Personnel conflicts have historically provided the greatest setbacks”. In other words, it takes one person in a high position in a foreign country to stop multi-lateral agreements that may have taken place for a long time before his/her start date. 

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