EDITOR — LAST week, in this publication, one scribe asked if there are any footprints of bioterrorism in the country?
Biological warfare is the premeditated, calculated use of microorganisms and toxins, commonly of microbial, plant or visceral (animal) origin to produce disease and/or death in people, livestock and crops.
Biological and chemical warfare share several common features. Two main subsets of biological terrorism are food terrorism and agroterrorism.
Genetic engineering and information advancement opened misuse in the development and improvement of infective agents such as bioweapons.
Such misuse is envisaged in the development of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms, and in the enhanced invasiveness and pathogenicity of commensals. An attack with bioweapons using antibiotic-resistant strains could initiate the occurrence and spread of communicable diseases, such as anthrax, smallpox, typhoid plague and cholera on either an endemic or epidemic scale.
Those who think that bioterrorism and bio warfare is fiction should be reminded that there is a Geneva Convention of Biological and Toxins Weapons (1972). Biological agents are commonly aimed against economic targets such as crops, livestock and ecosystems.
Furthermore, such warfare/terrorism can always be carried out under the pretext that such traumatic occurrences are the result of natural circumstances that lead to outbreaks of diseases and disasters of either endemic or epidemic proportions. A key aspect and attribute of bioterrorism is to mess up agriculture, to annihilate livestock, to contaminate the environment to food insecurity through intentional food poisoning and food infection.
We are at war Zimbabweans and that war was declared on December 21 2001 through ZDERA. Uncle Sam is reported to be at the apex on the list of countries with bioterrorism and biowarfare capabilities. We are not ignorant of the technicalities of Uncle Sam, our archenemy, who declared himself to be our chief nemesis through ZDERA.
Are our agro-policies and other people-centred policies safe from agroterrorism (subset of bioterrorism)?
That is another story for another day.
Bioterrorism agents are categorised in classes; the classification into Categories A, B and C is based on: The ability of the agent to be disseminated, the mortality rate of the agent, the actions required for public health preparedness, the capability of causing public panic.
Category A consists of agents that are considered the highest risk. Included among Category B agents are ones that could conceivably threaten water and food safety. Category C includes pathogens that are considered emerging infectious disease threats and which could be engineered for mass dissemination.
Diseases that fall in Category A are but not limited to botulism, hantavirus, lassa, Ebola, Marburg, plague. Diseases in Category B are cholera, e. coli , hepatitis A, ricin toxin, salmonella, typhus fever, yellow fever. Diseases in Category C include nipah virus, hantaviruses, yellow fever virus, Tickborne encephalitis complex, Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV), West Nile virus and monkeypox virus, to name but a few examples. — Mupakamiso Makaya, Harare