As weapons of mass destruction (WMD)–biological weapons pose a serious threat to national, regional and global stability. University researchers could play an important role in contributing to the development of effective measures and practices aimed at securing biological materials and technology that could otherwise be misused to produce, or lead to the proliferation of biological weapons.
This was revealed during the National Biosecurity Workshop for Kenyan Universities organized by the Government through the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) in partnership with the Commission for University Education (CUE) and the Danish Government’s Centre for Biosecurity and Biopreparedness (CBB), Monday, January 15, 2018 at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).
According to CBB, “The aim of biosecurity is to secure biological materials and technology that can be misused to produce biological weapons.”
Technical Services Director at NACOSTI Dr. Roy Mugira while lauding the use of science and technology for inclusive social economic growth, noted that “under uncertain controls, this may result in insecurity and threat to global stability.”
He observed that it was out of that concern that “The State parties under the Biological Toxin Weapons of Destruction (BTWC) and the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540, were working in concert to prevent or prohibit biological threats to global stability.”
In his message read by Dr. Edwardina Ndhine, Principal Scientist at NACOSTI, Dr. Mugira told the over 60 JKUAT researchers and postgraduate students and Biosecurity experts from Denmark that “it had become imperative to highlight challenges encountered in the facilities that access, use, handle, transfer biological materials of concern in an environment frequent with incidences of outbreaks of highly infectious diseases on one hand and hostile activities on the other.”
Universities, he explained, have a key role and responsibility to enforce the BTWC and UNSCR 1540 Biological threat Prevention and Prohibition Nonproliferation obligation to avoid public panic and possible occurrence of incidences of economic disruption and mass destruction.
Vice Chancellor, Prof. Mabel Imbuga observed that the workshop’s primary objective was “To sensitize and raise awareness amongst Kenyan researchers on the biosecurity and biosafety issues researchers and students are likely to grapple with in the course of their research endeavours.”
Prof. Imbuga noted that JKUAT is one of the institutions where substantial amount of research is conducted and hosting the workshop provided a perfect platform to researchers, lecturers, technicians and postgraduate students in biological sciences to acquaint themselves with emerging issues and engage with experts on biosecurity issues.
Noting the possibility of terrorists and non-state actors acquiring WMD materials, “As universities, we have a daunting task to compliment Government efforts in creating awareness on biosecurity in our research institutions aimed at reducing the biological threats by carrying out research in safe environments that will not affect the lives of others in the process,” said Prof. Imbuga.
Ms. Linet Kisaka of CUE sounded an alarm: Toxins in the hands of wrong people is dangerous. She urged stakeholders to relate and engage in the conversation on biosecurity.” Ms. Kisaka said, the issues to interrogate as universities include: the development of standards and guidelines on how to interact with these materials, as well as the level of preparedness among researchers and postgraduate students regarding biosecurity.
Biosecurity experts from Denmark’s Centre for Biosecurity shared the Danish experiences and reaffirmed their willingness to work with Kenyan stakeholders to support national efforts to develop Biosecurity and Biopreparedness systems in accordance with international obligations. The Danish team included: Mr. Thomas Emil Jensen, Dr. Katja Olsen, Dr. Steen Giese and Ms. Line Gylling.
Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Research, Production and Extension, Prof. Mary Abukutsa appreciated the workshop organizers noting, the conversation outcome would be key in informing how researchers interact with their work, including the ethical issues in research, while Prof. Otoki Moirongo, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Finance) highlighted the need for the adoption of a holistic approach in interrogating biosecurity concerns including the role of urban designers noting that the human mind is controlled by the environment.
NACOSTI is the National Focal Point to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and the United National Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540 which Kenya acceded to in 1976 and 2004, respectively. The Biosecurity Workshop for Kenyan Universities whose theme was “Awareness Raising on Biosafety in Universities for Biological Threat Reduction” is part of NACOSTI’s role in coordinating the whole-government implementation of nonproliferation of biological weapons.