The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) is scheduled this week to hold “a closed-door meeting to once again look at unpublished manuscripts describing” two studies that showed how H5N1 bird flu virus could be manipulated to become transmissible among ferrets, a model for humans, NPR’s health blog “Shots” reports, noting that the meeting “will include a classified briefing from the intelligence community.” The article examines the “dual use” nature of the studies, meaning “legitimate scientific work that’s intended to advance science or medicine, but that also might be misused with the intent to do harm.” Though the “concept of dual use got a lot of attention even before this bird flu controversy,” scientists, institutions and funding agencies do not always have policies in place to review the potential consequences of research, the blog notes (Greenfieldboyce, 3/26).
National Security and Bioterrorism
U.S. intelligence agencies released a report (.pdf) on Thursday warning that “[d]rought, floods and a lack of fresh water may cause significant global instability and conflict in the coming decades, as developing countries scramble to meet demand from exploding populations while dealing with the effects of climate change,” the Associated Press reports (Lee, 3/22). “The Intelligence Community Assessment report says the water challenges will increase regional tensions and distract countries from working with the U.S. on important issues,” VOA News writes, noting, “The report’s purpose was to assess the impact of global water issues on U.S. security interests over the next 30 years” (3/22).
Speaking at State Department headquarters in recognition of World Water Day on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “announced a new partnership of organizations to apply the nation’s abundant experience in water issues to solving global water challenges,” according to IIP Digital. “The partnership will bring together more than 30 agencies, institutions and advocacy organizations with diverse experience and knowledge of water issues,” the news service writes (Porter, 3/22). The U.S. Water Partnership will “creat[e] a platform for fostering new partnerships among the U.S.-based private sector and the non-profit, academic, scientific, and expert communities” and “will mobilize the ‘Best-of-America’ to provide safe drinking water and sanitation and improve water resources management worldwide,” according to a State Department press release (3/22). “Something as simple as better access to water and sanitation can improve the quality of life and reduce the disease burden for billions of people,” Clinton said, VOA News notes (3/22).
Rep. Sensenbrenner Sends ‘Fact-Finding Letter’ To White House Science Adviser About Bird Flu Studies
“Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), a former head of the House committees on science and the judiciary, and currently vice chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, last week sent a ‘fact-finding letter’ to White House science adviser John Holdren, asking pointed questions about how the U.S. government has handled the controversy” surrounding two studies that showed how H5N1 bird flu virus could be manipulated to become transmissible among ferrets, a model for humans, “and questioning whether it should have funded the two flu studies,” ScienceInsider reports. “The [Obama] Administration’s response has appeared ad hoc, delayed, and inadequate,” Sensenbrenner writes, adding, “An ad hoc approach is inadequate to balance the priorities of public health and the free flow of academic ideas,” according to the article, which includes the full text of the letter.
InterAction Sends Letter To CIA Head Protesting Use Of Vaccination Plot To Find Bin Laden In Pakistan
“An alliance of 200 U.S. aid groups has written to the head of the CIA to protest against its use of a doctor to help track Osama bin Laden, linking the agency’s ploy to the polio crisis in Pakistan,” the Guardian reports, noting Pakistan recorded the highest number of polio cases in the world last year. The CIA used a “fake vaccination scheme in the town of Abbottabad … in order to gain entry to the house where it was suspected that the al-Qaida chief was living, and extract DNA samples from his family members,” the newspaper writes. But the plan “provided seeming proof for a widely held belief in Pakistan, fuelled by religious extremists, that polio drops are a western conspiracy to sterilize the population,” according to the Guardian.
Ukraine Security Secretary Says HIV, TB Remain Threat To Nation’s Security, Encourages Cooperation With Global Fund
Speaking about two bills concerning Ukraine’s cooperation with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Ukraine Secretary of National Security and Defense Council Andriy Kliuyev said “[t]he epidemics of AIDS and tuberculosis [TB] remain a threat to national security in Ukraine and require redoubled efforts to treat and prevent these diseases,” Interfax reports. Submitted to Ukraine’s parliament by the Cabinet of Ministers, the two bills “propos[e] to exempt from taxes and duties all transactions connected with the use of grants from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Ukraine,” the news agency notes. “The NSDC secretary said the state should explore every avenue to minimize the sickness rate and create conditions for the treatment and prevention of dangerous diseases, adding that the grants of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria are valuable support for Ukraine,” Interfax writes (3/3).
U.S. Panel May Re-Evaluate Bird Flu Research After Scientists Present New Data About Risks To Humans
Speaking at the American Society for Microbiology’s (ASM) Biodefense and Emerging Diseases Research meeting in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, Ron Fouchier, the leader of the team at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands that genetically altered the bird flu virus, making it transmissible between ferrets and “touching off public fears of a pandemic, said … that the virus he created was neither as contagious nor as dangerous as people had been led to believe …, prompt[ing] the United States government to ask that the experiments be re-evaluated by a government advisory panel that recommended in December that certain details of the work be kept secret and not published,” the New York Times reports (Grady, 2/29).
Republican Presidential Candidate Santorum Could Be Beneficial To Global Health Programs If Elected President
In the Republican campaign for the presidential nomination, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), “the most religiously conservative candidate, surprisingly, is the most fervent advocate for U.S. global health diplomacy,” Jack Chow, former U.S. ambassador on global HIV/AIDS and former assistant director-general of WHO on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, writes in a Foreign Policy opinion piece. “Santorum has staked out global health as one of his preferred instruments of asserting American power abroad” and “seems determined to lay the groundwork for a global health agenda that is not only far more extensive than his competitors’, but would surpass both [George W.] Bush and Barack Obama in advancing U.S. interests abroad through fighting disease,” Chow writes.
“[T]oday, with the national debt approaching $14.7 trillion, Americans rightly demand fiscal responsibility. Yet efforts in Congress to cut billions from the president’s proposed budget for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are short-sighted,” Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, writes in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece. He adds that “all of our foreign aid programs and foreign policy initiatives — from sending diplomats to Afghanistan to helping reverse the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa — cost less than one-tenth of our annual military expenditures” and “comprises a mere 1.5 percent” of President Obama’s FY 2013 budget request.
Attendees of a recent WHO meeting that discussed the possible publication in the journals Nature and Science of two studies that modified H5N1 bird flu strains to show the virus could be more easily transmissible among humans decided publication of redacted versions would be ineffective and that “a system for distributing the full paper only to selected individuals would be impossible to set up on any relevant timescale,” a Nature editorial states. Participants also learned “not only does the mammalian transmissibility threat seem greater than previously thought, but also that current avian viruses have some of the mutations identified in the new work,” according to the editorial.