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Arms Control and International Security: Remarks at Tufts University During a Panel Discussion on Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: How Significant a Threat?

(As Prepared)

Date: 02/23/2013 Location: Medford, MA Description: Ambassador Jenkins delivered remarks at a Panel Discussion on Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: How Significant a Threat? at Tufts University.

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It is truly a great honor for me to be here this afternoon. I want to thank the organizers for inviting me here to speak. 

As you look at the title of today's panel, you’ll note the phrase: Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: How Significant a Threat? 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a bioterrorism attack as, the deliberate release of viruses, bacteria, or other germs (agents) used to cause illness or death in people, animals, or plants and in the National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats the Obama Administration stated, Biological weapons and their use or proliferation by States or non-State actors (biological threats) present a significant challenge to our national security. 

The United States Government recognizes that bioterrorism is a significant threat not only to the United States, but to the entire world. Biological agents do not acknowledge international borders and sovereign nations. 

It is important when addressing the threat posed by bioterrorism to note that the mechanisms we use to address it are equally applicable to emerging infectious diseases. This dual benefit to our efforts to counter bioterrorism means that it is absolutely imperative that we work together across the health and security communities as we address biological threats, no matter the cause. 

In fact, President Obama, in his 2011 address to the United Nations General Assembly said,… we must come together to prevent, detect, and fight every kind of biological danger – whether it is a pandemic like H1N1, a terrorist threat, or a treatable disease. And during that important event, the United States signed an agreement with the World Health Organization to address that challenge, including working together with our global partners to rapidly address all public health emergencies of international concern. 

I have been in the unique role of partnering with the global health and security sectors as they’ve worked together to prevent biological threats and improve global health security, whether the threat is from a naturally occurring infectious disease outbreak or the result of an intentional attack.  

To prevent, protect against, and respond to biological threats, we must look to initiatives that promote multi-sectoral approaches for biological security – and efforts that facilitate whole-of-government approaches. We must also work very closely with our international partners as we address global health security. One such mechanism that does this on the international scale is the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction – also called the Global Partnership.In 2012 under the G8 Presidency of the United States, I served as Chair of the Global Partnership Working Group. The Global Partnership, established in 2002, is made up of 25 partner nations. It is truly a unique organization, because its funding focuses on efforts to prevent terrorists, or states that support them, from acquiring or developing weapons of mass destruction.   

The partnership was originally conceived as a ten-year, $20 billion initiative, but as of today, we have exceeded this funding. For the first ten years of the initiative, the majority of work within the Global Partnership was focused on destroying nuclear submarines and chemical weapons in Russia, though funding also went to activities and programs in others states of the former Soviet Union. Today, I am happy to say that the Global Partnership has expanded geographically and functionally to include a major focus in other critical areas, including nuclear and radiological security, scientist engagement, implementation of UN Resolution 1540, and biological security around the world.  

I want to stress that when we use the terms biological security or biosecurity, we are not referring only to physical security measures. Instead, the Global Partnership biosecurity effort is focused on addressing biological threats across the spectrum of the disease surveillance system, in close cooperation with international governments and organizations. 

This symposium is a testament to the importance of bringing together the health and security communities so we can more successfully combat biological threats. This too was the vision of the Global Partnership while the U.S. was Chair, and in 2012 we created a Biosecurity Sub-Working Group that promotes a long-term program of work to bring together health and security sectors so that the Global Partnership can provide coordinated assistance to other nations to counter biological threats. This decision reflects activity in the United States and from other Global Partnership members that highlights the necessity to address biological threats through the promotion and enhancement of global health security. 

One of the first tasks of the Biosecurity Sub-Working Group was to agree on deliverables that the group would work to achieve through coordinated projects with partner countries. The resulting Global Partnership Biosecurity Deliverables document allows for these activities to be annually reviewed and the outcome assessed after a period of five years. The activities will focus on five key areas – or Deliverables:

  • Secure and account for materials that represent biological proliferation risks.
  • Develop and maintain appropriate and effective measures to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the deliberate misuse of biological agents.
  • Strengthen national and global networks to rapidly identify, confirm and respond to biological attacks.
  • Reinforce and strengthen biological non proliferation principles, practices and instruments; and
  • Reduce proliferation risks through the advancement and promotion of safe and responsible conduct in the biological sciences. 

Within the Global Partnership Biosecurity Working Group, we are not only working closely with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – all who have played important roles in the global health security community from the health sector side - we are also involved with other critical international organizations and administrative support mechanisms whose work supports the health and security interface from the nonproliferation and law enforcement side. These include the Biological Weapons Convention Implementation Support Unit, and INTERPOL. International organizations such as these have recognized and understood the value of promoting cooperation across the health and security sectors as a way to combat biological threats. 

Among the five activities of work within the Biosecurity Sub-Working Group, two efforts have already surfaced as major biosecurity priorities that have been dubbed Flagship Projects. The first is the Global Partnership commitment to strengthen the ability of nations to implement the WHO International Health Regulation (IHR) core capacities. The legally-binding IHRs were designed to address all disease outbreaks or other public health events of international concern, whether naturally occurring or deliberate. They were adopted in 2005 and came into force in 2007 with all 194 WHO Member States as States Parties to the IHRs. The IHRs required States to have established national core public health capacities by mid-2012. This deadline has now passed and implementation of core capacities continues to present a challenge in many technical areas. To date, over 60% of Member States have requested the two-year extension allowed under the -IHRs, which gives these States until mid- 2014 to come into full compliance. In support of this critical need to identify and strengthen implementation gaps, the Global Partnership has assisted the funding of five WHO IHR Regional Stakeholders Meetings. These meetings have been attended by partners from different sectors such as health, agriculture, travel, trade, education, and defense. Partners are able to engage in direct dialogue related to technical issues concerning experience in IHR implementation and discuss pledges and statements about assistance in filling gaps in nations’ capacities. The United States has been engaged in each of the IHR Regional Stakeholders Meetings led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

These meetings have been held across various WHO regions and have been extremely helpful in identifying the weak points in the implementation process for each participating country. This valuable information provides stakeholders with opportunities for funding and technical assistance to those countries in order to comply with the core capacities of the IHR. Each region presents its own limitations in the IHR implementation from sustainability of integrated disease surveillance to risk communication efforts to control of points of entry. The United States Government anticipates funding up to $10M this year towards the IHR initiative. 

The second specific Global Partnership commitment is to promote support to the jointly funded FAO and OIE project to implement rinderpest post-eradication follow-up measures. Rinderpest devastated herds of cattle for centuries, until the last outbreak in 2001. Through a successful global effort led by OIE and FAO, rinderpest was declared eradicated in 2011. Accordingly, OIE and FAO members agreed to destroy remaining stocks of rinderpest virus containing materials or to safely store them in a limited number of laboratories. This ongoing global effort to inventory, destroy and/or secure remaining material with rinderpest virus is vital to biosecurity efforts. The Global Partnership, having recognized the security challenges and the unique opportunity to sustain rinderpest post-eradication efforts, is committed to working with OIE and FAO to fund the post-eradication efforts. Consequently, the United States Government has begun working with OIE and FAO to support funding proposed activities for rinderpest security.

These are just two examples of our critical activities under the Global Partnership Biosecurity Working Group. We are also focusing on implementing projects to assist partner nations with national biosecurity systems, real-time biosurveillance capacity, laboratory biosecurity measures, development and utilization of modern diagnostics to alleviate biological risks posed by traditional culturing methods, training in culture of responsibility, and many other areas. 

In December 2012, I hosted a meeting during which the senior leadership from WHO, OIE, FAO, and Global Partnership nations came together in Geneva to highlight the global health security collaboration between the Global Partnership and international organizations. During that meeting, Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General of the WHO stated, I welcome the Partnership’s inclusive approach to global health security that taps expertise from multiple sectors, including veterinary public health and agriculture. She also thanked me for viewing biological security in the broader context of global health security. These statements demonstrate that the WHO sees the value in cooperation between the health and security sectors and collaboration across international organizations. These relationships could be the essential piece to combating biological threats whether from a new emerging infectious disease or from intentional release. 

I continue my work within the Global Partnership this year as the U.S. representative, but I am also working to strengthen other global health security avenues as the U.S. Department of State Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs. Those of you attending this symposium know probably more than most, that biosecurity ranges from the monitoring of wildlife birds, as we seek to prevent the animal to human transmission of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza, to food defense workshops to prevent the intentional contamination of our food supply.  

Some of the areas where there is ongoing work to improve biosecurity funded by the United States include:

  • A train-the-trainer workshop on Biorisk Management designed to strengthen the global laboratory capacity for the management of laboratory biorisk by providing access to quality training.
  • The strengthening of global health security leadership and collaboration by enhancing cooperation among the human health, animal health and environmental health actors to ensure effective detection and response to public health risks through efforts such as increased collaboration and communication within WHO on cross-cutting work.
  • Supporting international scientist engagement in global public health research by working in collaboration with U.S. scientists.
  • Partnering with the Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control to improve IHR capacity and developing new approaches to emergency operations capacity and integrated disease surveillance with the World Health Organization.
  • Collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Agriculure Organization and World Organization of Animal Health to improve zoonotic disease detection and surveillance capacity, biorisk management, and laboratory capacity for preventing, protecting against and responding to biological threats. 

Biological threats have dramatically changed in recent years due to globalization, increased pressure on land and water resources, new and emerging pathogens and sadly, new violent extremists who would resort to a biological attack on the United States or our interests abroad, therefore, we all are changing with it by improving our connections with others and increasingly recognizing the value of multisector approaches to meet our most important challenges and opportunities. 

I have been meeting and listening to participants of this symposium to forge these connections and I look to continue building partnerships as a way forward in global health security.