Global Health Diplomacy and Security: Applications of Biosafety for Global Health Security
A biosafety and biosecurity expert, inspired by the memory of a former student who died following a laboratory accident, kicked off Georgetown’s Global Health Security Seminar Series’ spring semester program on January 19.
Jim Welch, former executive director of the Elizabeth R. Griffin Research Foundation, headlined the event, co-sponsored by Georgetown’s Center for Global Health Science and Security and the Global Health Initiative.
The Global Health Security Seminar Series was created to promote greater dialogue regarding pandemic preparedness across the university and the Washington, D.C., community.
The series features a diversity of speakers from the biosafety spectrum, lecturing on fundamentals of biosafety and its importance—from sound microbiological practices, to the use of safety equipment, and the implementation of facility safeguards that reduce the risk of exposure to infectious diseases.
BIOSAFETY TRAINING AND RESEARCH
The Elizabeth R. Griffin (ERG) Research Foundation launched in 1997 with a “focus on prevention through high-quality biosafety training, research involving biological exposures, and support for occupational health awareness and improvement.”
Elizabeth R. Griffin was fatally exposed to B virus while working at a primate research center due to failures in biosafety procedures. The foundation set out to prevent similar events from happening by promoting occupational health and safety for researchers–first for nonhuman primate research workers, and later expanding to all laboratory research workers.
Following the anthrax letters incident in the United States in 2001 and the SARS outbreak of 2003, the foundation found itself at the forefront of promoting safe research in environments beyond nonhuman primates and other laboratory animals, and expanded its work into broader advocacy for biosafety awareness and training.
Today, Welch, along with Rev. Caryl Griffin Russell, the Foundation’s former president, are now affiliates of the Center for Global Health Science and Security, which is committed to preserving the legacy of the ERG Research Foundation's work in promoting safe and responsible research to strengthen global health security.
"SINGING TO THE CHOIR”
Acknowledging the diversity of the assembled audience, comprised of experts, implementers, and policymakers, Welch noted the importance of coming to a shared understanding across similar disciplines—biosafety, bio-risk management, and biosecurity.
His talk centered around the applications of biosafety to global health security—going through the parameters of the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA). GHSA is a partnership of over 64 nations, international organizations, and nongovernmental stakeholders to help build countries’ capacity to help create a world safe and secure from infectious disease threats and elevate global health security as a national and global priority.
GHSA pursues a multilateral and multi-sectoral approach to strengthen both the global capacity and nations’ capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to human and animal infectious diseases threats whether naturally occurring or accidentally or deliberately spread.
WHO’S MISSING? —LOCAL ADAPTATION AND LEADERSHIP
While the fundamentals of biosafety may seem obvious, Welch emphasized the importance of perspective when implementing safety programs and plans in developing countries.
“If you take what you do in a First World lab, and expect to apply it in a developing world scenario, you’re kidding yourself,” Welch stated. “There are issues beyond most people’s imagination.”
He further urged the audience to resist the tendency towards uniformity, and instead to focus on local adaptations. Being responsive and respectful to context is critical to success—“what we do in biosafety and biotechnology—our goal is that we need to work with an adaptor.” Additionally, biosafety should not be focused on an individual country’s interest in protecting itself from external risks, but about collectively protecting one another from global risks.
In closing, Welch stressed the importance of local capacity building and leadership to the future of global health security.
“If this is going to be sustainable, it doesn’t require the leadership of the United States or the G7, it depends on the leadership of those who are there—on the ground. Global health security takes more than just talk—it takes action.”