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Sen. Lugar Highlights Potential Bioterrorism Threat Posed By Unsecured Medical Facilities In East Africa

Senator Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) on Friday said that poorly secured medical laboratories in East African countries, which host insurgent groups linked to Al Qaeda, are vulnerable to bioterrorism, Agence France-Presse reports.

“Lugar, with a visiting Pentagon arms control expert team, told reporters that despite the absence of immediate bioterrorism threats in the region, security in the labs handling dangerous pathogens was critical. ‘It is so important that biosecurity be enhanced here and promptly,’ said Lugar. ‘Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups are active in Africa and it is imperative that deadly pathogens stored in labs there are secure,'” he said, the news service reports (11/12).

Last week Lugar “toured sites in Uganda, Burundi and Kenya where diseases like ebola, marburg and anthrax are stored – pathogens that can be stolen and made into weapons,” the Associated Press reports.

During a visit to the “Kenya Medical Research Institute, red and blue garbage bags of medical waste sat next to a storm drain that leads to Nairobi’s Kibera slum. A Lugar aide said medical waste in the U.S. would have to be incinerated immediately instead of sitting around,” the news service writes. Unsecured medical materials could pose a significant threat during times of political upheaval, such as the deadly riots that followed Kenya’s 2007 presidential election, Lugar said. 

Solomon Mpoke, director of the Kenya Medical Research Institute, “acknowledged the shortcomings and said that while his facility has not experienced break-ins, attacks or other serious threats he looks forward to U.S. assistance, including a strengthening of the fence near the slum,” the AP writes (11/12).

In a press release from his office, Lugar also mentioned the unique work done in these labs. “The work that has been performed at these labs is invaluable and the world is better off for it. Without this research we would be even further behind the curve on potential outbreaks and new strains of deadly diseases like Ebola and anthrax,” Lugar said. “The threat is very geographically focused because in one instance the population of the slum is literally against the security wall of the laboratory,” he said of his visit to one lab “situated immediately next to Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi and known terrorist recruiting grounds,” the release states (11/12).

“We want to work together as partners to provide a very different situation,” according to Lugar, who also said the U.S. was willing to provide the labs with financial support, AFP reports. “We have objectives that will hopefully bring about safety for those who are bringing about human services in a world that is sometimes dangerous,” he said (11/12).

The AP quotes Andy Weber, a top Pentagon official, Noel Stott of South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies and Milton Leitenber from the Center for International and Security Studies at University of Maryland, who “said African countries should not divert funds, personnel and effort to [the] ‘greatly exaggerated U.S. preoccupation with bioterrorism'” (11/12).

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