By Ben Farmer published on 14 November 2018
Fewer than one-in-10 countries have met global standards for securing killer germs, increasing risks of an accidental disease outbreak or bioterrorism, a campaign group has warned.
Just 19 countries completing a United Nations safety check have built or shown strong biosecurity safeguards. No countries meet the highest standard for biosecurity.
The lack of robust controls increases the chances of a “catastrophic” biological event, according to NTI, a campaign group tracking nuclear, biological and chemical threats.
A large scale disease outbreak is judged one of the most serious threats to both the UK and America.
While a naturally occurring disease outbreak such as the 1918 flu pandemic is considered the most likely risk, security experts are also worried about the possibility of bioterrorism, or an accidental release of a microorganism from a laboratory.
Lax standards were highlighted in 2015 when it was disclosed the Pentagon had both accidentally posted live anthrax samples to dozens of laboratories.
An NTI review of countries who have undertaken a World Health Organization voluntary check of their biosecurity found only 19 countries had developed or demonstrated security that meets global standards.
“When countries do not have robust systems to protect their dangerous pathogens from being stolen, from being released as a result of a laboratory accident, or from being manipulated during research absent a risk assessment, they increase the potential for a catastrophic biological event,” said Dr Beth Cameron of NTI.
Dr Cameron, a former US national security council adviser on biosecurity, said global travel, urbanisation, terrorists' interest in weapons of mass destruction and rapid advances in genetic engineering were all adding to the threat.
“If we don’t develop biosecurity and biosafety systems at pace with these threats, we run the risk for an accidental or intentional disease outbreak that could degrade the health, economic stability, and security of our global community,” she told the Telegraph.