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BWC Experts Stress Disease Surveillance Measures

By David Ruppe

Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON — Approximately 450 experts and officials from parties to the Biological Weapons Convention concluded an annual meeting last week in Geneva stressing the importance of strengthening global disease surveillance, investigation and response (see GSN, July 20).

The meeting precedes a high-level session of treaty parties scheduled for Dec. 6-10 in Geneva, part of a three-year program to discuss specific biological weapons-related topics in preparation for the treaty’s sixth review conference in 2006 (see GSN, Nov. 18, 2003).

Many papers submitted at the meeting, according to a press release, emphasized strengthening national infectious disease surveillance systems to improve global capabilities for responding to natural or deliberately caused outbreaks.

“The potential for new, emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases to disrupt essential services, trade, and travel underscore the fundamental role of disease surveillance and preparedness in responding to, controlling and mitigating naturally occurring outbreaks of infectious diseases affecting humans, animals and plants,” the press release states.

Other presentations discussed ways of improving disease response, including strong national coordination for disaster planning, electronic reporting and information management, improving rapid laboratory and field detection capabilities, and “various international investigative mechanisms for responding to allegations of deliberate use.”

The focus of the experts and states parties meetings reflects a U.S. emphasis in recent years on national initiatives and international knowledge sharing for discouraging and addressing illicit biological activities, instead of a protocol to the treaty.

The United States at the fifth review conference in 2001 blocked final negotiation of a protocol that would have created an inspection mechanism for the treaty (see GSN, Dec. 10, 2001).

Guy Roberts, the acting head of the U.S. delegation to this year’s meeting, said there that the treaty provides mechanisms for investigating suspicious outbreaks, through a party’s request to the U.N. Security Council, which my initiate an investigation, or though a “formal consultative meeting” of treaty parties. He said the U.N. secretary general also has authority to investigate.

Addressing the meeting at its start, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Multilateral and Conventional Arms Control Donald Mahley praised the meeting process.

“This process provides an excellent opportunity to move forward as an international community on this very complicated, yet critically important, subject,” he said.

“We believe that this experts meeting will provide an excellent opportunity for your disease surveillance experts to learn about other international efforts being undertaken in this field that may have relevance to your national efforts,” he said.

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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