In 2014, more than two dozen countries and organizations launched the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) to accelerate global capability to prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to biological threats. Now with 59 country partners, the GHSA has prompted countries to prioritize pandemic preparedness, including by undergoing peer-review gap assessments through the World Health Organization Joint External Evaluation (JEE) process and by pledging financial and technical assistance to countries lacking resources to fill gaps. Unfortunately, although many countries have made commitments to advance the GHSA, biosecurity and biosafety continue to be under-represented in global policy discussions about pandemic preparedness. In addition, there are no accountability mechanisms for monitoring GHSA-related commitments – including commitments to advance biosecurity and biosafety – nor has any specific national or regional mechanism been developed to track progress and announce new commitments or setbacks. In short, much work remains to prioritize biosecurity and biosafety as public health imperatives.
Lack of Preparedness for Bioterrorism
In advance of the 4th Annual GHSA Ministerial on October 25-27, 2017, in Kampala, Uganda, NTI mapped the biosafety and biosecurity-related JEE scores from the 39 countries with published JEE peer reviews as of October 17, 2017. Most countries that have been assessed through the JEE process lack core biosecurity and biosafety capabilities, which indicates a lack of preparedness for preventing, detecting, and responding to bioterrorism threats.
In our analysis of the 39 published JEE reports, NTI found that:
- 74% of the assessed countries demonstrated limited or no capacity for a whole-of-government national biosafety and biosecurity system.
- 64% of the assessed countries demonstrated limited or no capacity for biosafety and biosecurity training and practices.
- 41% of the assessed countries demonstrated limited or no capacity for linking their public health and security authorities during a suspected or confirmed biological event.
These scores are concerning for several reasons. Most importantly, they indicate a lack of capability in areas vital to countering biological threats, including: updated inventories of dangerous pathogens and toxins; consolidation of dangerous pathogens and toxins into a minimum number of facilities; biosafety and biosecurity legislation; standards for containing and handling dangerous pathogens and toxins; use of effective modern diagnostic technologies that do not require culturing; comprehensive biosafety and biosecurity training; best practices for safe, secure, responsible conduct; and mechanisms for linking public health, animal health, and security authorities to investigate and attribute biological attacks. The results also highlight remaining biosecurity and biosafety shortcomings among countries receiving assistance to improve biosecurity and biosafety capability.