Senior Consulting Fellow, Centre on Global Health Security

Petra Dickmann, Dickmann Risk Communication DRC; Sarah Emami, Independent Consultant; Arthy Santhakumar, British Medical Association; Clare Mildenberger, MPH student, Simon Fraser University

It is unclear whether it is imperative for global health protection that all countries reach the laboratory safety standards demanded in the most developed countries, and it is doubtful that such an approach is sustainable. According to this research paper, sufficient biosafety and biosecurity levels can be reached with a more context-sensitive risk-based approach and a smarter use of existing resources.

A lab technican works with pathogen samples as part of research into dangerous animal pathogens in the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative Lab in Yaounde, Cameroon, July 28, 2011. Photo by Brent Stirton / Getty Images.A lab technican works with pathogen samples as part of research into dangerous animal pathogens in the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative Lab in Yaounde, Cameroon, July 28, 2011. Photo by Brent Stirton / Getty Images.

Summary

The global burden of infectious disease outbreaks is increasingly recognized. In order to build capacity for diagnosis, laboratories have been built and are in use worldwide. Laboratory safety standards vary significantly between the developed and the developing world, and it is unclear whether it is imperative for global health protection that all countries reach the standards demanded in the most developed countries, as is the opinion of many. It is doubtful that such an approach is sustainable. Sufficient biosafety and biosecurity levels can be reached with a more context-sensitive risk-based approach and a smarter use of existing resources.

The concept of safety and security draws on an understanding of risks that reflects a context-sensitive process. This relative risk could be a useful starting point for regulators and policy-makers to rethink their current approach to biosafety and biosecurity in a globalized world. Rather than defining standards as universal endpoints, they could then adopt the alternative method of establishing and maintaining a productive discourse to relate risks to local settings.

A key barrier to reflecting on the complexity of biosafety and biosecurity lies in the isolated responses and conceptual cultures of health and security approaches. Health and security have been separately assessing, planning and responding to key aspects in their own fields. The key challenge for future activities is how to frame or re-frame the debate of health and security. A major task is to connect these thought, perception and action cultures.

The core recommendation of this paper is to convene and bring together the different cultures of health and security in meetings and joint working groups to develop policy for smart implementation in diverse environments.

Next steps include a meeting of stakeholders (regulators, policy-makers, architects, scientists) from low-, middle- and high-income countries to reflect and agree on a relative-risk-based approach. This scoping meeting should be followed by a two-day workshop bringing together the different perspectives (health, security, regulation, design) to suggest suitable approaches for developing countries. Recommendations from this workshop could guide stakeholders and donors to support the design and implementation of sustainable approaches reflecting the context and environment of laboratories worldwide.

Finally, this approach should to be taken to international organizations and working groups such as World Health Assembly, the Global Health Security Agenda and the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, to gain universal acceptance and support for it.