Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here’s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.


 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate

Subscribe!
Subscribe





On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.
___________

Syndicate
RSS/XML


RSS 2.0

Biosecurity and infectious disease

By Peter Curson - posted Monday, 27 October 2008


In the world of international relations with its current fears about biosecurity and infectious disease, whether naturally occurring or purposely released, things are not always as they first seem.

In 2007 Indonesia came under widespread criticism for refusing to provide bird flu samples to the WHO because of fears that commercial interests would obtain the samples and produce vaccines that countries like Indonesia could not afford.

To many people, this seemed a valid fear in that many developing countries are often priced out of needed medicines and likely to be at the back of a world queue for vaccine during a pandemic. Such a stance won widespread support throughout Asia as well among some of the mainstream Western media.

Advertisement

But the story gets murkier.

It would also appear, from a recently released book by the Indonesian Health Minister, that the ban on making samples readily available to research labs in the USA was also related to the fear that Washington could use such material to construct biological weapons.

At the time, the US Secretary for Defence, Robert Gates poured scorn on the allegation, stating that it was “the nuttiest thing” that he had ever heard. But things are not always what they seem. It has recently come to light that inside the 86-page Supplement to the US Export Regulations there is a single sentence that clearly bars US exports of vaccines for a wide variety of human infections, including bird flu, human influenza, dengue and ebola, to a number of pariah states.

The reason. Fear that such material might fall into the wrong hands and that these countries might just use such material to develop biological weapons and sponsor terrorism. It seems that in our insecure world, biosecurity fears reign supreme. Little known until recently, this clause, enacted more than a decade ago, bans countries like North Korea, Iran, Cuba, Syria and the Sudan from receiving life saving vaccines even during times of severe crisis unless they first apply for a Special Export Licence, granted at the discretion of the US Government.

Given the constraints of bureaucracy a decision on such a request would probably take weeks. Interviewed recently about the clause the US Commerce Assistant Secretary, Christopher Wall would only say that there were valid security concerns for such a policy.

To many people, such fears might seem far-fetched and it does seem unlikely that bird flu viruses might be genetically engineered to create bio-weapons. More significant is that the denial of access to life-saving vaccines raises many moral and human rights issues and has widespread implications in a world where infectious diseases recognise no national borders and where an epidemic in any country in the world has implications for all countries.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All


Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

2 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with del.icio.us Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Peter Curson is Emeritus Professor of Population and Health in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Macquarie University.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Peter Curson

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Peter Curson
Article Tools
Comment 2 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend
Advertisement

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy