By Samantha Dittrich, manager, Global Health Security Agenda, APHL
Over the past 60 years, the number of new diseases per decade has increased nearly fourfold. Since 1980, the number of outbreaks per year has more than tripled. These alarming trends have serious implications for human and animal health as well as severe and lasting economic consequences in affected areas.
In order to address these human health threats, a One Health approach is needed. One Health recognizes that the health of people is connected to the health of animals and the environment, and calls for interdisciplinary collaboration and communication in healthcare and public health practice. With the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) in progress, the One Health approach is more important than ever before, and partners must come together to accelerate progress towards a world safe and secure from infectious disease threats.
Inside public health laboratories around the world, scientists handle dangerous pathogens while testing human, animal and environmental specimens for disease. But these pathogens aren’t just confined to laboratory vials and storage tubes: they travel. Often diseases originate in local communities where samples are collected at healthcare facilities that are not equipped to safely and securely handle them. Blood, stool and even animal carcasses may be stored at clinics or emergency operations centers for hours or even days before the samples are transported to laboratories, often on via methods that lack the security requirements for safe sample handling, storage and disposal.
- Safe handling of pathogens in a laboratory or public health setting by scientists or clinicians is biosafety. Simply put, biosafety is keeping yourself (the public health laboratory professional) safe from laboratory mishaps.
- Keeping dangerous pathogens secure and out of the hands of someone who may want to use them intentionally to harm others is biosecurity.
Biosafety and biosecurity are fundamental parts of the GHSA. Laboratory biorisk management means instituting a culture of rigorous assessment of the risks posed by infectious agents and toxins and deciding how to mitigate those risks. It involves a range of practices and procedures to ensure the biosecurity, biosafety and biocontainment of those infectious agents and toxins. Threats posed by deliberate release (aka, bioterrorism) and accidental release of infectious agents from a laboratory can happen anytime and anywhere. To mitigate the risks, it is critical that we are prepared to prevent, detect and respond to these threats.
As a partner in the GHSA, APHL collaborates with ministries of health worldwide to develop effective national laboratory systems. One of the ways we do that is by providing guidance to our global partners to reduce laboratory biosafety and biosecurity risk. All laboratories – whether they test human, animal or environmental specimens – should develop and maintain biorisk management systems tailored to their unique operations and risks. There is no one-size-fits-all biorisk management system.
Most recently, APHL drafted a Biorisk Management Framework as a tool for partners in Ghana. The Framework offers a comprehensive, systematic approach to laboratory biorisk management. It includes a list of essential elements Ghanaian laboratories can use to assess their operations and better integrate and enhance biosafety and biosecurity programs, whether it is a human, veterinary or environmental laboratory.
In the coming months, APHL will work with partners from public health laboratories, local hospitals, and the veterinary and research communities to discuss a comprehensive, standardized approach to the development of a national Biorisk Management Framework. The goal of this One Health effort is to reduce laboratory biosafety and biosecurity risk.
Preventing the next outbreak will require a One Health approach with close collaboration among the health, animal, agriculture, defense, security, development and other sectors. APHL will be there as a partner, advisor and sounding board for countries working to better manage laboratory biosafety and biosecurity risk.
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