By Mupakamiso Makaya and Tapiwa Bere
ON November 23 2019 UK Independent news agency journalist Adam Forrest reported a story captioned:“US military chiefs ordered to reveal if Pentagon used diseased insects as a biological weapon.”
It was further reported in the story that: “US lawmakers…voted to demand the Pentagon disclose whether it conducted experiments to ‘weaponise’ disease-carrying ticks – and whether any such insects were let loose outside the lab.”
In pursuant to the inquiry a Bill was passed in the House of Representatives that required the Defence Department’s inspector-general to investigate whether biological warfare tests involving the tiny arachnids took place over a 25-year period.
In a book titled (Bitten:‘The Secret History of Lyme Disease and Biological Weapons’, the writer Kris Newby suggests that there is a connection between the experiments alleged to have been carried out by the Pentagon and the spread of Lyme disease (an infectious disease spread by ticks causing fever, headaches and fatigue).
These events demand that we be cautious of military biological espionage schemes, particularly on African territory.
Despite the end of the liberation struggle on December 21 1979, the threat to Dzimbahwe by biological weapons has increased, there is a need for us to be cautious.
December 21 is the same date and month the US imposed illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe, therefore it becomes a symbolic date in Zimbabwean history. Are dates important?
Emphatically yes: Dates are imperative, as they are a memorandum of past events.
This is very important because history is recorded chronologically helping one examine the relationship between events.
Is it mere coincidence or its symbolism strategy?
This date/time symbolism tells Zimbabweans that we are at war, and the possibility of that war becoming biological is high.
Biodefence and strategy require a multidisciplinary methodology to understand the effects of these agents on the nation.
Biodefence and biosecurity strategies need to be designed to address all types of biological threats, counting those whose probability of manifestation cannot be calculated and whose magnitudes are potentially calamitous.
In one of the previous instalments, we proposed 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, to up biodefence pursuit.
The need for robust defensive capability is now.
Biodefence embraces a gargantuan range of undertakings that unavoidably require policymakers and other stakeholders to be quid pro quo when allocating time, effort, and funding.
In our previous exposition, the Ministry of Health was identified as one of the key Ministries in biodefence, the biosecurity strategy must cogitate first, the source of contagion, be it from biological mutation, species crossover, accidental release, or an unfriendly actor intentionally in quest to inflict harm.
Precautionary strategies for these diverse sources are accomplished by different agencies and arms of Government, including the Ministry of Health whose sphere of influence includes public health.
Public health apparatus ought to be concomitant with other systems that are central to the health of the population: healthcare systems (such as primary care, emergency departments and hospitals) as well as the social care system, which comprises long-term care.
Biodefence is defined as: “…action premeditated to thwart biological threats, reduce risks, prepare for, respond to and recover from bio incidents.”
All of the above cannot be successful without the input of different departments from the Ministry of Health, whose core capabilities ought to be detection and diagnosis, attribution, communication, medical countermeasure development, medical countermeasure dispensing, medical management as well as threat characterisation.
Medical defence against biological pathogens used in terrorism or warfare has emerged over the past decade from the workings of a few select research laboratories.
Sanatoriums and clinical laboratories are the first lines of defence against bio-threat agent contagions and emerging infectious diseases. These test sites will likely be the first to see clinical specimens from patients who have been exposed to premeditated bio-threat agent discharges, naturally befalling bio-threat agents, or emerging infectious diseases.
Their rapid recognition and communication of these questionable agents is fundamental to prompt identification and response.
Infection control aficionados and healthcare epidemiologists guide the improvement of applied and realistic response procedures for their establishments in preparation for a real or suspected bioterrorism attack. Institution-specific response plans should be prepared in partnership with local and state health departments.
Bioterrorism planning components may be incorporated into existing disaster preparedness and other emergency management plans.
The ministry catering for public health should be responsible for decontamination.
Decontamination is the process of removing contaminants on an object or area, including chemicals, micro-organisms or radioactive substances. This may be achieved by chemical reaction, disinfection or physical removal.
The need for decontamination depends on the suspected exposure and in most cases will not be necessary.
The objective of decontamination after probable exposure to a bioterrorism agent is to diminish the degree of exterior contamination of the patient and contain the contamination to preclude further blowout. Decontamination should only be considered in instances of gross contamination.
Choices concerning the need for decontamination should be made in consultation with state and provincial health departments. Decontamination of exposed individuals prior to receiving them in the healthcare facility may be necessary to guarantee the safety of patients and the workforce while providing care.
Prophylaxis and post-exposure immunization is also an obligation under the Ministry of Health.
Health facilities should ensure that procedures are in place to identify and manage healthcare professionals exposed to infectious patients.
It is essential that the preservation of precise occupational health records will expedite the identification, communication, assessment, and delivery of post-exposure care to possibly exposed healthcare professionals.
Triage and management of large-scale exposures and suspected exposures is a fundamental role of the ministry responsible for public health, for each healthcare facility, the participation of the infection control committee, administration, emergency department, laboratory managers, and nursing administrators should clarify in advance how they will best be able to deliver care in the event of large scale exposure.
All health facilities should slot into Bioterrorism Readiness Plan routes for triage and safe housing and care for potentially large numbers of affected personages.
Triage and management planning for large-scale events may include: Launching networks of communication, and systematic planning for the annulment of non-emergency services.
Every occurrence including bioterrorism and biowarfare has psychological aspects.
Ensuing a bioterrorism-related episode, fear, and panic are predictable from both patients and healthcare providers.
Psychological responses succeeding a bioterrorism/ biowarfare affair possibly will consist of horror, anger, anxiety, and anxiety of septicity, paranoia, social isolation or dejection.
Public Health professionals including clinicians ought to cultivate prior working interactions with mental health support personnel such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, clergy and volunteer groups.