“Too few people realize that the health of Americans and the health of people around the world are inextricably linked,” Kevin De Cock, director of the Center for Global Health of the CDC, writes in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog. He continues, “In short, investing in global health isn’t just about humanitarianism. Cooperation across borders is essential in an increasingly connected world where diseases move as freely as people and products. It is in America’s interest to be a true global partner on health” (7/19).
National Security and Bioterrorism
In this post on her blog, “The Garrett Update,” Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), examines the potential implications of a fake hepatitis vaccine campaign carried out by the CIA in Pakistan last year in an attempt to gather DNA from Osama bin Laden’s family. She writes that “the fake vaccine effort has now put at least 300,000 children in Afghanistan and Pakistan in danger of contracting polio, led multiple imams and Taliban leaders to declare vaccines are CIA plots, and [on Tuesday] prompted what appears to have been an assassination attempt against a World Health Organization immunization convoy, leaving two individuals alive, but shot” (7/17).
New York Times Examines How CIA's Decision To Use Vaccination Team Affecting Polio Eradication Efforts
The New York Times examines how the CIA’s 2011 decision to use a vaccination team to collect DNA samples and information from residents of Osama bin Laden’s compound damaged efforts to vaccinate children for polio in Pakistan. The effects of the campaign, which has prompted local leaders to ban polio vaccination teams, will not be fully known “until the summer spike of polio cases tapers off in the fall,” the newspaper writes and reviews the history of the case as well as polio in the region. Elias Durry, the WHO’s polio coordinator for Pakistan, “and other leaders of the global war on polio say they have recovered from worse setbacks,” and many experts are confident that Pakistan eventually will eliminate polio, according to the New York Times (McNeil, 7/9).
In order to “fill food gaps in the 70 most food deficient countries, … the U.S., through the Food for Peace program and other food aid programs, provides approximately two million tons of American-grown food donations to 50 million starving people every year,” James Henry, chair of USA Maritime, writes in an opinion piece in The Hill’s “Congress Blog.” He continues, “This food, delivered on ships proudly flying the U.S. flag in bags stamped ‘From the American People,’ provides a tangible symbol of our generosity that helps generate goodwill toward our nation,” and “we all should agree that our willingness to help others in need is one of our country’s proudest achievements.” Henry writes that though food aid programs account for less than one half of one percent of the federal budget and “impact the lives of millions of hungry people around the world every year,” they “are in jeopardy as some policymakers are considering eliminating funding for international food aid.”
Noting that the journal Science last week published the second of two controversial bird flu research papers, in which a team led by Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam created a mutated strain of the virus that spreads easily among ferrets, a Washington Post editorial writes that “this is not the end of the story. Rather, it marks the beginning of an important chapter for both science and security.” The editorial continues, “The United States and other nations need a more sophisticated process for vetting research for possible security threats without discouraging or impairing scientists,” adding, “This is more difficult than it sounds.”
Congressman 'Dissatisfied' With Handling Of Controversial H5N1 Papers Calls For Cohesive Policy For Handling 'Risky' Research
“[D]issatisfied with the government’s handling of two research papers on mutant forms of avian influenza,” Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) on Wednesday “said that the lack of a cohesive policy for handling risky research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other federal agencies could necessitate new laws, a situation that researchers have been trying to avoid,” the Nature News Blog reports. “The second of the controversial papers showing that H5N1, or ‘bird flu,’ can spread through the air between mammals was published last week, providing some closure to the months-long debate about the work and whether its publication would result in the proliferation of dangerous viruses and increased risk of an accidental or intentional release,” the blog writes, adding, “Sensenbrenner says not enough work has been done to ensure that such controversies don’t arise again.”
The New York Times examines several studies published in the journals Nature and Science looking at how the H5N1 bird flu virus could mutate to become more virulent among humans and outlines the history of controversy surrounding the studies. “While scientists have offered two possible ways in which H5N1 might become a human flu, they’re almost certainly not the only two,” the newspaper writes, adding, “There is no checklist of mutations that any bird flu must acquire to start infecting humans.” According to the newspaper, “Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, hopes scientists will be able to amass a longer list of potential mutations, and even find a common denominator in how they alter H5N1,” which might make it “possible to monitor emerging strains for signs that they are about to cross over into humans” (Zimmer, 6/25).
The U.S. journal Science on Thursday published the results of a controversial study in which researchers at the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands “identified five mutations apparently necessary to make the [H5N1] bird flu virus spread easily among ferrets, which catch the same flus that humans do,” the New York Times reports (McNeil, 6/21). “The publication of [the] research had been delayed by several months after the U.S. government’s National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) warned that the information should be censored to avoid being misused, for example by terrorists,” the Guardian writes, noting, “Last month, Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin-Madison published details of another form of the bird flu virus that can pass between people, which was created by merging a mutated strain with the swine flu virus that sparked a human pandemic in 2009” (Jha, 6/21).
“It’s easy to get the impression that [recent controversy over research into mutated versions of the H5N1 flu virus] has created a clear split between a scientific community that wants the research to proceed and the results to be published and a biosecurity community that doesn’t,” biological-weapons expert Tim Trevan writes in this Nature opinion piece. But “[a]s a member of this biosecurity community for more than 30 years — I was special adviser to the chairman of the United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq and covered chemical and biological disarmament with the U.K. Foreign Office in both London and Geneva, Switzerland — I believe this to be a false dichotomy,” he states.
U.S. Homeland Security Adviser John Brennan on Thursday “hosted a roundtable discussion with World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan and senior officials from across the U.S. Government,” during which “[p]articipants discussed the steps needed to advance key elements of a U.S. Government-WHO memorandum of understanding on global health security, signed last year on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly,” the White House Blog reports. The “meeting reflects our deepening commitment to build relationships across sectors and with other nations in recognition that the response to health threats must be global,” the blog writes, adding, “The Obama Administration sees yesterday’s meeting as an important step towards protecting the health of the American people as well as people around the world against potential public health emergencies” (6/15).