Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU), Belgrade, Serbia - 15-17 November 2010

“Exploring synergies between bioterrorism preparedness and general public health measures”

The Research Group, in cooperation with Prof. Vladan Radosavljevic from the Military Institute of Preventive Medicine in Belgrade, Serbia, organized the Workshop “Exploring synergies between bioterrorism preparedness and general public health measures” at the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU), Belgrade, Serbia. The workshop took place 15 to 17 November 2010 and was supported by NATO’s Science for Peace and Security Programme. 34 experts from 20 countries plus a number of local guests participated in the workshop.

The threat from the terrorist use of diseases has been one of the major security concerns in recent years, particularly after the anthrax letter attacks in the USA in 2001. This threat of intentional outbreaks of diseases stands side by side with the constantly changing natural threat from diseases, epidemics and pandemics. Naturally occurring diseases claim the lifes and health of large numbers of people year after year, while bioterrorism has killed five people worldwide so far.

While the impact of naturally occurring infectious diseases is largely foreseeable and we have a lot of experience with preventing, limiting, countering, responding to and recovering from natural disease outbreaks, bioterrorism events have been so rare that our knowledge is largely hypothetical. What is clear is, that bioterrorist attacks have the potential to be unexpected mass casualty events. How likely such events are and how exactly they would look like remains very much debated. The uncertainty associated with the bioterrorism threat makes public health preparedness planning for such events practically and politically very difficult.

At the moment, preparedness for natural disease outbreaks and bioterrorism preparedness are all too often dealt with by different actors with different approaches under different funding arrangements. While there are a number of differences between natural and deliberate outbreaks of disease – e.g. the types of diseases involved, or the legal follow-up – there also are large areas where differences are likely to be small, in particular in the area of non-disease-specific public health responses. Finding the areas of overlap, identifying the differences and the gaps that exist and thereby contributing to streamlining public health response measures so as to enable them to protect public health from all three types of biological threats – natural, accidental, deliberate – was the focus of the workshop. The workshop focussed on South Eastern Europe. This is a region in Europe where some of the diseases caused by agents on the lists of bioterrorist threat agents are endemic, such as tularemia or Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever.

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