Biosecurity experts urge universities to secure biomaterials

By Patrick Amunavi

University researchers can play an active role in contributing to the development of effective measures and practices aimed at securing biological materials and technology that could otherwise be misused by destructive elements to produce biological weapons or lead to their proliferation.

According to experts meeting at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) during the Kenya National Biosecurity Workshop for Universities, the aim of biosecurity is to secure biological materials and technology that can be misused to produce biological weapons

NACOSTI Director of Technical Services, Dr. Roy Mugira while lauding the use of science and technology for inclusive social economic growth, noted that “under uncertain controls, this may result in insecurity and threat to global stability.”

He stated that it was out of that concern that “State parties under the Biological Toxin Weapons of Destruction (BTWC) and the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540, were working in concert to prevent or prohibit biological threats to global stability.”

In his address that was read by Dr. Edwardina Ndhine, Principal Scientist at National Council for Science, Technology and Innovation, NACOSTI,   Dr. Mugira told researchers, postgraduate students, technicians and Biosecurity experts that it had become imperative to “highlight the challenges encountered in the facilities that access, use, handle, transfer biological materials of concern in an environment frequent with incidences of outbreaks of highly infectious diseases on one hand and hostile activities on the other.”

Universities, he noted, “Have a responsibility to enforce the BTWC and UNSCR 1540 Biological threat prevention and prohibition nonproliferation obligation to avoid public panic and possible occurrence of incidences of economic disruption and mass destruction. 

JKUAT Vice Chancellor, Prof. Mabel Imbuga noted that substantial amount of high profile research is conducted at JKUAT and hosting the workshop “provided a vibrant platform to researchers, lecturers, technicians and postgraduate students in biological sciences to acquaint themselves with emerging issues and engage the experts on biosecurity issues they are likely to grapple with in the course of their research endeavours.”

Noting the possibility of terrorists and non-state actors acquiring WMD materials, “As universities, we have a daunting task to compliment Government efforts in creating awareness on biosecurity in our research institutions aimed at reducing the biological threats by carrying out research in safe environments that will not affect the lives of others in the process,” said Prof. Imbuga.

Biosecurity experts from Denmark’s Centre for Biosecurity comprising of Mr. Thomas Emil Jensen, Dr. Katja Olsen, Dr. Steen Giese and Ms. Line Gylling, shared the Denmark experiences and reaffirmed the Centre’s readiness to work with Kenyan stakeholders to support national and regional efforts to develop Biosecurity and Biopreparedness systems in accordance with international obligations.

Horticulture Researcher Prof. Mary Abukutsa, said the workshop outcome will significantly inform how researchers interact with their work including the ethical issues in research, while Prof. Otoki Moirongo, an expert in urban design and environmental management, highlighted the need for the adoption of a holistic approach in interrogating biosecurity concerns to encompass the role of urban designers noting, the human mind is controlled by the environment.

NACOSTI is Kenya’s National Focal Point to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and the United National Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540 which Kenya, acceded to in 1976 and 2004, respectively.  The Biosecurity Workshop for Kenyan Universities is part of NACOSTI’s role in coordinating the whole-government implementation of nonproliferation of biological weapons.

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