Pandora Report 8.10.2018

Biological Weapons Convention – Meeting of Experts
The 2018 Biological Weapons Convention Meeting of Experts (MX) is underway and we’ll be reporting out, but if you need a daily dose of news, check out the latest via these great sources – the Implementation Support Unit’s Twitter @BWCISU, live UN video feed, and the detailed daily reports from Richard Guthrie. In his first report of the MX, Guthrie discusses the new set up of meetings – “This series of meetings is the most recent iteration of work programmes held between the five-yearly Review Conferences of the Convention that are commonly known as the ‘inter-sessional process’.  The Eighth BWC Review Conference in 2016 was unable to agree on the contents of a new inter-sessional process but was able to agree to delegate further discussion on what might be in such a process to the Meeting of States Parties (MSP) held in December 2017.  The 2017 MSP agreed to the holding of five distinct MXs in each of 2018, 2019 and 2020.  Each year would also include a week-long MSP towards the end of the calendar year.” You can also read the Joint NGO Position Paper to the BWC, which was organized by Filippa Lentzos and underscores not only the importance of NGO involvement, but outlines several key components to strengthen cooperation and assistance, development in science and technology, etc. You can watch the delivery of the statement here (starting at 03:02:00). The Meeting of Experts will continue through August 16th, and we’ll be sure to keep you posted about any updates in the mean time!.

DRC Ebola Outbreak Update
The DRC continues to manage an outbreak in North Kivu, with 44 reported cases of Ebola virus disease. Of these cases, 17 are confirmed and 27 are probable. 54 suspected cases are also being investigated. “The health ministry said officials are putting contingency plans in place in Goma, in case the virus reaches the city. Elements of the plan include identifying an isolation unit at the city’s North Kivu Provincial Hospital, putting border officers at city entry points, and beginning social mobilization activities.”

The June 2018 Cologne Ricin Plot 
In June, German police unearthed a ricin plot by a Tunisian extremist in Cologne. “German intelligence had learned that Sief Allah H. had bought various materials via the internet, including more than a thousand castor beans and an electronic coffee grinder. During the police raid, a powdery substance was found, which subsequently tested positive for ricin. Holger Münch, head of Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), stated shortly after the raid, ‘There were pretty specific preparations for such a crime, using, if you want, a bio-bomb. This is a unique case, at least for Germany’.” There has been increasing counterterrorism concerns regarding the use of ricin by terrorists and extremists. The Cologne incident is particularly unique in that if the main suspect, Sief Allah H, is proven guilty, it will be the first time a jihadi terrorist has produced ricin in the West. “Equally troublingly, the case suggests radicalized individuals are indeed able to produce a biological weapon using internet tutorials. Though the Islamic State is in rapid decline in Syria and Iraq, the manuals and how-to instructions for explosives and other weapons are still available online. This material, which is being shared via Telegram channels and other forms of communication, still has the potential to inspire jihadis across the globe.” Make sure to also read the interview with British CBRN expert Hamesh de Bretton-Gordon in which he notes the greatest CBRNE concerns he has, from “the continued active use of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria” to “the Novichok attack in Salisbury. We now know that the Russians have an asymmetric capability in Novichok that overmatches NATO’s ability to defend against it. If the Russians used it tomorrow, we would certainly be found wanting and that will continue to be the case until we’ve got necessary defensive measures in place.”

Impact of the Global Medical Supply Chain on SNS Operations and Communications: Proceedings of a Workshop
The latest report from the National Academies of Science is out regarding supply chains and strategic national stockpile operations. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) with a focus on procuring and managing medical countermeasures (MCM) designed to address chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear events and attacks by weapons of mass destruction. The stockpile is a repository of antibiotics, chemical antidotes, antitoxins, vaccines, antiviral drugs, and other medical materiel organized to respond to a spectrum of public health threats. Over time, the mission of the SNS has informally evolved to address other large-scale catastrophes, such as hurricanes or outbreaks of pandemic disease, and rare acute events, such as earthquakes or terror attacks. When disaster strikes, states can request deployment of SNS assets to augment resources available to state, local, tribal, or territorial public health agencies. CDC works with federal, state, and local health officials to identify and address their specific needs and, according to the stated mission of the SNS, ensure that the right resources reach the right place at the right time.” Within the report, there are discussions on the gaps within the global medical chain, supply chain issues related to the SNS, the role of strategic communication, etc.

MERS & The Role of Hospitals
The latest World Health Organization (WHO) global summary and risk assessment on Middle East respiratory syndrome-coronavirus has reinforced the notion that hospitals are amplifiers for the disease. While little has changed epidemiologically, the ongoing healthcare-related outbreaks are worrisome for longterm infection control. Of the six recent clusters reported from Saudi Arabia (hit the hardest with 83% of all cases), three were related to healthcare transmission. “Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD,  an epidemiologist who is the WHO’s technical lead for MERS-CoV, said the report’s findings are a reminder that the disease remains a global health threat. ‘This high threat respiratory pathogen has shown the potential to cause large outbreaks with substantial public health, security, and economic consequences,’ she told CIDRAP News.”

How CMS Rules Impact Infection Prevention Programs
Speaking of infection control and hospitals….GMU biodefense doctoral student and infection preventionist Saskia Popescu breaks down the concerning role that policy changes for healthcare reimbursement from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare (CMS) have on infection prevention programs. “Moreover, these changes would not change much in terms of burden and workload for infection preventionists. The same types of reporting are required, and high rates of HAIs are still linked with financial penalties. In fact, there is concern that these proposed changes could give the impression that less work will occur, leading to a reduction in staffing for infection control programs, which has, ironically, already been cited as the cause of high HAI rates and even referred to by union leaders and workers as proof of staffing needs.” The strength of infection control programs within hospitals is critical to stopping not only the spread of spread of multi-drug resistant organisms, but also working to combat healthcare-associated infections, and making sure hospitals are better prepared for infectious disease threats like MERS, SARS, and Ebola.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Aggressive New Tick Species Moves Through The U.S. – “The tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis), referred to as the ‘longhorned tick’ or the ‘bush tick,’ was first identified in New Jersey in November 2017 on a sheep in Hunterdon County. Recently, the tick has been detected in Union and Middlesex counties of New Jersey as well, according to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. However, New Jersey is not the only state to have identified the tick—it has now been reported in 8 US states.”

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