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The current COVID-19 is unlikely to be the last of global pandemics. This crisis has highlighted many lessons. The world is witnessing today how the offensive and defensive capabilities of biotechnology are revolutionizing warfare. The major contenders are equipped with an arsenal of smart warfare technology with exponential possibilities. Research suggest that threats from both naturally occurring and manufactured pandemics through the use of biological weapons are increasing alarmingly. Currently, without defined guidelines on how to address bio incidents, the counter activities rely on ad hoc responses of questionable utility. Therefore, to counter the threat, India needs to institute and operationalize a National Biological Security Strategy (NBSS), a comprehensive, structural, and integrated biodefense management strategy that will address such biological incidents that have the potential to damage lives, property, environment, and the economy.The NBSS must coordinate and strengthen biodefense activities by incorporating informed research, technological innovations, governance and policies, global best practices, and initiatives related to countering biological threats.
India needs to institute and operationalize a National Biological Security Strategy (NBSS), a comprehensive, structural, and integrated biodefense management strategy.
The primary objectives of the National Biological Security Strategy would be-
Threat analysis and situation awareness for decision-makers:
Threat analysis involves developing domestic and international risk assessment and investigation with shared bio-threat intelligence, bio-threat surveillance, cutting-edge research, modeling forecasts of likelihood and impact, and capability toanalyze, identify and characterize deliberate, accidental, and natural biological incidents. Situation awareness involves assessing the potential impact of bio-incident on critical infrastructure and identifying gaps in the response. To implement informed responses, decision-makers should be well informed with threat analysis and situation awareness, including all potential impacts of emerging infectious diseases, dual advances in life sciences and biotechnology, innovation in technologies, and expertise available for mitigation.
Capacity building to prevent bio-incidents:
This involves strengthening health security capabilities by promoting infection prevention measures like vaccination programmes, accelerating research in the development of diagnostics, vaccines, novel antimicrobials remedies, promoting best practices to minimize zoonotic transmission of diseases, and building bio-incident resilient public health systems capable of delivering health emergency responses. Strengthening biosafety and biosecurity capabilities to minimize chances of laboratory accidents require promoting measures to prevent outbreaks and reduce the spread of emerging infectious diseases, and promote safety and security practices. Governing bodies must consider strengthening the intelligence network in this regard, and develop a dedicated national portal for bio-surveillance and national biological security fund.
Preparedness to mitigate the impact of bio-incidents:
National science institutions provide a base to support national biological security capabilities. Biopreparedness involves developing and updating public health infrastructure, exercising rapid response capabilities, effective medical countermeasures, effective dissemination of preventive measures, innovative technologies for detection and decontamination, establishing risk communications, and collaborating across the country and internationally to share resources and expertise. Governing bodies need to invest in emerging technologies, integrate research and development in planning, and establish institutions and faculties dedicated to devising responses to bio-incidents.
Biopreparedness involves developing and updating public health infrastructure, exercising rapid response capabilities, effective medical countermeasures, effective dissemination of preventive measures, innovative technologies for detection, decontamination, and establishing risk communications.
Rapid response to bio-incidents:
To limit the impact of bio-incidents, accurate, timely, and rapid responses through coordinated response operations, information-sharing network, and actionable public messaging are necessary. This involves building a holistic and collaborative approach, including government, media, healthcare, and research communities, to compile and share real-time threats and information to enable decision-making bodies to implement response operations and guidelines across all governing entities. Analysis of modeling, capacity to contain, control, and mitigate impacts, healthcare capacity, capability data, available diagnostics, and interventions across all stakeholders nationally and internationally to monitor and support response on a real-time basis is a prerequisite. As per the International Health Regulation (2005), notifying and coordinating with international organizations and partners, sharing expertise and resources is required throughout the bio-incident response. For maintaining situational awareness, monitor and support decision making throughout the response, information exchanges at all levels- global, neighboring borders, national, state, district down to the Panchayat level has to be carried out.
Restore capability and capacity after bio-incident:
This involves coordinating and facilitating safety measures to recover and restore health, social and economic activities after the bio-incident. Coordinating activities are required to restore critical infrastructure services and capabilities, enable resumption, support, and conduct mitigation actions to minimize the incident’s impact on the economy, health, and security.
While addressing SAARC members on COVID-19, PM Modi argued for collaboration and preparedness- “We can respond best by coming together, not growing apart–collaboration, not confusion, preparation not panic.”
COVID-19 has highlighted the risk of bioterrorist attacks and the vulnerability of the unprepared health systems. The risks cannot be zeroed out, but can and must be managed. Wide-ranging biothreats require a comprehensive National Biological Security Strategy (NBSS) to minimize the potential risks by harnessing the benefits of science & technology. Through NBSS, India’s government will be equipped to strengthen its efforts by bringing all the essential partners and expertise together to understand, prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from biological threats that challenge national security. While addressing SAARC members on COVID-19, PM Modi argued for collaboration and preparedness- “We can respond best by coming together, not growing apart–collaboration, not confusion, preparation not panic.”
Our leadership believes in and stands for a secure and peaceful world, and we have a tradition of contributing to UN peacekeeping missions across the globe. It is a timely opportunity to strengthen biosecurity at home and voice concern for global cooperation for a bio-secure, peaceful, and sustainable world. It is an opportunity to open and facilitate dialogue on disarmament, and strengthen efforts to prevent, deter and counter biological threats, whether it be a pandemic, a bio-terrorist attack, or biological warfare.