We recently convened an event to further an investigation undertaken by the United States upon how responses to pandemics may differ when their release is suspected or found to be a deliberate act. The dialogue sought to use the experience of those involved in the international response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014 to focus discussion. The use of viruses as weapons has received further investigation as developments in technology and research raise questions of vulnerabilities in the currently established systems for dealing with pandemics. The event built on our extensive work in the fields of both bio-security and public health that have included dialogues on the upcoming review of the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention and previous work on anti-microbial resistance and genomics.
The State Department investigation had suggested a marked difference in the protocol and mechanisms for responding to a suspected or deliberate attack compared to the planned response to natural outbreaks. The study asked relevant organisations in a wide selection of fields and industries how they might hypothetically respond in the case of attack in a formerly uninfected region.
The dialogue aimed to understand how these identified key stakeholders acted in response to the Ebola outbreak, and what might be learnt, improved or requires systemising in the case of a deliberate outbreak. The participating stakeholders include government and multilateral bodies, NGOs, public health organisations, militaries and private industries including those responsible for transport, infrastructure and financing.
Some of the speakers
Lance Plyler, Medical Director, Disaster Response Unit, Samaritan’s Purse International Relief, Boone and Akin Abayomi
Head of Department, Division of Haematology, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town
Maria Julia Marinissen, Director, Division of International Health Security, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, United States Department of Health and Human Services, Washington DC