By Mupakamiso Makaya and Tapiwa Bere
RESEARCH indicates that, despite the signing of the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC), clandestine biological weapons programmes have not stopped.
The Second Republic is in the right strategic direction in its biodefence pursuit through the Bio Warfare Bill.
Microorganisms in the hands of the irresponsible are dangerous to the human race; as the earth exists, evil people will always be with us — scheming and perpetrating evil.
We need, collectively, to be wary of malevolent doers who present themselves as champions of virtue, for their bundle of virtue is an absolute bale of vice.
These diabolical malcontents have made genetically engineered pathogens to be biological warfare agents.
The possibility of germ warfare is high.
State actors and non-State actors are busy now investing in time, energy and resources developing bio threats, wittingly or unwittingly.
Our energy is also required to offset such nefarious or accidental threats being posed by bio threats emanating from efforts of the players in bio-fraternities.
On April 21 2002, one of Britain’s leading newspapers, The Guardian, in a report by Antony Barnett, reported that: “The Ministry of Defence turned large parts of the country into a giant laboratory to conduct a series of secret germ warfare tests on the public.”
According to the official report that was quoted in the article, the trials took place between 1940 and 1979.
What is of interest is that the biological weapons trials were conducted without the public being privy to these ongoings.
Adversaries of Zimbabwe have declared, on various for a, their ingrained detest of Zimbabwe’s policies, such as the successful Land Reform Programme. Others have gone to the extent of legislating laws aimed at total annihilation of Dzimbahwe population, by every means possible.
In light of these enemies, bio strategy and bio legislation are key.
Timely exhibition of the holistic commitment by President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his administration towards national biodefence and implementation stratagem has demonstrated to the people of Zimbabwe, and the world at large, how the administration intends to make Zimbabwe free from cataclysmic biological occurrences (either natural or deliberate) and countering biological threats. The strategy also augments epidemic, pandemic preparedness.
COVID-19 has taught us the need to have robust preparedness mechanisms to avert catastrophic biological incidents.
It is envisaged that full-bodied, inclusive biodefence posture will arm the Zimbabwean Government agencies to be prepared to operate in a biological threat environment as well as support biodefence initiatives at home or abroad when the need arises.
The Constitution of Zimbabwe spells out explicitly that it is in the vital interest of the Zimbabwean Government to protect its citizens.
The envisioned Bio Warfare Act will play an important role in supporting constitutional priorities, namely upholding and defending human rights, freedoms and building a defence ecology that is alive to bio threats and bio incidents.
Bio warfare or germ warfare and other biodefence initiatives should evaluate the threat and security environment through unravelling naturally occurring biological threats, accidental biological threats as well as deliberate biological threats.
In our subsequent instalments, we will dichotomise the above mentioned biological threats.
Anticipated biological law should outline a strategic inclusive hybrid line of effort that should include: Early warning mechanism as well as counter-bio threats, speed response and establishment of a biodefence governance that involves multiple statutory authorities, more like a biodefence council of some sort, which council should have a hierarchic structure that will have principals, participants and contributors.
Ruinous biological happenings lead to loss of life, and unrelenting harm to the national economy and societal solidity.
The biodefence initiative should be an amalgamation of schemes at every department of Government as well as the private sector that contribute to protecting the nation and its inhabitants from possibly calamitous effects of a biological episode.
In answering to the statutory requirement towards bio warfare and biodefence strategies, there is ardent need to name Government Ministries and Departments which, in our view, are relevant to the biodefence occupation.
These departments should either be given an inter-Ministerial platform or a steering committee that should include Permanent Secretaries or representatives from Ministries responsible for State Security, Defence, Agriculture, Health, Veterans Affairs (for their irreplaceable experience), Environment, Attorney General’s Office, Intelligence community as well as other Government and NGOs.
In our future expositions, in biodefence, we are going to comprehensively outline responsibilities that will be undertaken by the above mentioned stakeholders and proposed memorandum of understanding for biodefence or inter-Ministerial agreement clarifying roles for biodefence, research and development.
The nation’s capability to prepare for, and respond to, a biological incident — whether natural or deliberate or bio terrorist attack — is dependent on the nation’s public health systems.
The Second Republic has shown much commitment in addressing myriads of public health challenges.
Bio warfare legislation is the first step towards preparedness. Preparedness activities in bioterrorism and public health emergencies fall into the broad classifications of prevention, detection and response.
Examples of principal capacities in these areas include:
λ Prevention: regulating environmental and agricultural settings to lessen bio-agro threats, restrictive access to certain biological agents and refining intelligence to unearth plans for biological attacks.
λ Detection: health education to improve diagnosis, heightened biological surveillance and epidemiology to detect occurrences and upgraded laboratory capabilities.
λ Response: creation of response policies, systematic drills or exercises of those policies, regional and interagency co-ordination and communication, capacity for decontamination, immunisation and treatment.
Averting a biological warfare or inhibiting bio terrorist attack is of supreme importance to the security of our country.
Events in Ukraine as well as biological challenges bedeviling the world have reinforced the need for every country to enhance its security.
Preparedness activities that will be regulated by the envisioned law are targeted specifically for the development of emergency-ready public health departments that are flexible and adaptable.
These efforts will support a projected National Response Framework (NRF) which guides how the nation responds to all types of hazards, including infectious disease outbreaks; natural disasters; biological, chemical and radiological incidents; and explosions.