Expert advises government on bio-terrorism

Ayoola Efunkoya, Lagos

Governments need to be better prepared to prevent any threat to the health of their citizens owing to the manipulation of genetic engineering or the global computer systems.

An intelligence expert, Tanwa Ashiru made the observation following warning by philanthropist, Bill Gates on February 18 that bio-terrorism posed even a greater threat to global security.

Mr. Gates told his audience at this year’s Munich Security Conference in France,  that the world was not prepared to prevent or deal with the consequence of bio-terrorism, which has the capacity to kill more than 30 million people in a single year.

“The next epidemic could originate on the computer screen of a terrorist intent on using genetic engineering to create a synthetic version of the smallpox virus … or a super contagious and deadly strain of the flu,” said Mr. Gates whose foundation has spent billions of dollars ensuring good health worldwide.

Mrs. Ashiru, however, does not see this possible threat to the global health system as a worry citizen should lose sleep over yet.

“But it is definitely a concern that we need to start really considering because it poses a real threat,”  she warned.

Ashiru, who had previously worked with the US Air Force gave the  advice to fellow security and intelligence experts.

Already, billions of dollars go into counter-terrorism measures every year, but much less is currently committed to averting the consequence of any biological warfare.

Likely attack
Opinions on the seriousness of a bio-terrorism threat have always been divided. Mr. Gates’ address to the gathering of politicians, security experts and other players in Munich again pushed the discussion to the public domain.

The Microsoft cofounder told the conference that a biological attack was now more likely.

 “You can do amazing things now with technology,” Mrs. Ashiru said, in reference to Mr. Gates’ call for greater vigilance.

According to her,“With this same technology, people can also create viruses that are easily communicable, can spread very quickly and are hard to die.”

She said such a man-made attack would be a serious health issue for the world, which is currently unprepared to respond appropriately.

Ebola, Zika and other natural epidemics have caused deaths often in their thousands and disrupted social and economic lives of families and communities in recent years.

Drawing from Nigeria’s experience with the Ebola epidemic and outbreaks elsewhere, Mrs. Ashiru said countries needed to be equally prepared to counter bio-terrorism.

The intelligence expert said developing new vaccines, deliberately simulating health emergencies and training more people in science and technology could help prepare countries to respond to any threat to their health security.

Providing trainings
“We really need to focus on training more children and youths to embrace science and technology,”
she advised.

Children and youths make up the majority in many countries and encouraging them to embrace science and technology will provide the skilled manpower needed to help respond to bio-terrorism and other challenges.