Bioterrorism refers to the use of biological warfare agents such as microorganisms (bacteria, germs, viruses) and toxins to infect as many civilians and other living organisms as possible. These bioterror agents are advantageous because of certain properties; they are colorless, odorless, hard to detect, easily concealed and can easily be spread in air through ingestion or inhalation. This allows bioterrorists to escape with ease and would also prevent chaos in a civilian population because symptoms are not necessarily effective immediately. Specifically targeted areas include regions with densely populated areas, and are much more unlikely to be in a remote area. Symptoms and signs would take some time to appear before an attack was suspected due to the fact that biological agents require several days to incubate and spread, and the ease at which bioterrorists could spread microorganisms. Different bioterrorism agents are categorized into three different groups, based on the severity of its effects. Category A bioterrorism agents are regarded as having the highest risk and include toxins and organisms that lead to high death rates, ease of transmission and public disruption and panic. Agents classified in category A are also particularly threatening because they require special action in regards to public health, which includes specific medical procedures as carried out by Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication (CERC) or the Health Alert Network (HAN). Category B agents are considered having the second highest risk because they spread at a fairly moderate rate and cause relatively high illness rates. Although category B does not require specific medical attention like those of category A, increased monitoring in diseases is required. Lastly, category C agents are of much lower risk to civilian populations because they are still emerging, such as the hantavirus or Nipah virus, although they can be easily spread, are easily available and have the capacity to cause major health problems. In 1984, members of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh tried to spread infectious agents to local residents as a means to manipulate local electoral processes. Salmonella typhimuirum was spread throughout local salad bars in The Dalles, Oregon and caused 751 people to suffer from food poisoning. Although this incident did not result in any deaths, it was still considered a major event because it was the first known bioterrorist attack within the United States. In 1993, Aum Shinkrikyo, a religious group, released anthrax in Tokyo, Japan. This incident turned out to be completely unsuccessful because the group had tried using the vaccine strain of anthrax, which does not contain the genes that are necessary to create symptomatic responses. The most recent bioterrorist attack occurred in 2001 in the United States, where letters laced with anthrax spores were deliberately mailed to media offices and two Democratic senators in the US, and ended up killing 5 and infecting 17. Several of the biological warfare agents that are highly effective and are also highly lethal include anthrax, smallpox, ebola virus, ricin, and cholera. Agents that have fairly more moderate effects include Q fever, mycoplasma, T-2 Mycotoxins and Type B Enterotoxin. In the past, religious cults, sects and movements have used biological agents to terrorize populations. While bioterrorist attacks are not as common as other forms of warfare, bioterrorism has the potential to cause devastating effects upon entire populations and wreak havoc upon millions of people and living organisms.
In 2002, the World Health Assembly was held in order to strengthen surveillance of deliberately caused diseases and support countries in better preparedness. The importance of strengthening national health systems and distributing more health plans to rural areas was addressed by the General Assembly in 2010 with the adoption of in A/RES/65/1, and states how the World Health Assembly was responsible for developing and transferring technology, producing innovative medicines and vaccines and ensuring international assistance. Also in 2006, the General Assembly adopted the UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy after passing A/RES/60/288 and A/RES/62/272. These resolutions discuss the importance of putting new counter terrorism systems in place to combat terrorism while protecting human rights. Also, it is important to mention the need for Member States to improve public health systems as a means to ensure that advances in biotechnology are used solely for the purposes of benefitting the public. During the Meeting of States Parties of the convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction held in Geneva in 2008, Ban Ki-moon emphasized the need to focus on biosecurity, disease surveillance, detection, raising awareness, education, and preventing threats to public health. Ban Ki-Moon also addressed the need for the implementation of international programmes and the coordination of resources and activities, so that biological risks could be safely managed. Existing international organizations that are actively involved in this problem include World Health Organization, Interpol, and the World Organization for Animal Health. The UN has been involved with combatting terrorism for many years, but its involvement with bioterrorism has brought attention to the potential harm that advances in technology can cause.
Diseases are widespread in rural areas of certain African regions, including AIDS, cholera and malaria. Certain illnesses in these countries are important to consider because they have the capacity to cause destructive effects on entire populations during times of conflict. The governments of African countries are not in favor of using bioterrorism as a warfare tactic. African governments have not been entirely involved in protecting citizens from outbreaks of viruses and diseases due to poor health measures. If measures have been taken in the past to reduce or eradicate widespread diseases, illnesses and health issues, delegates could consider working with other countries to provide assistance.
Since Asia contains some of the most densely populated cities, certain countries could be at an increased risk of bioterrorism. Apart from the high population density in Asian countries, infectious diseases are also quite prevalent, and technology and research in bioscience has advanced at a rapid rate. Studies have shown that although Asia is unlikely to be targeted by bioterrorists, certain countries such as China would be at high risk because of its high population density. Asia has created many public health plans to counter the outbreak of diseases, having dealt with pandemics such as SARS in the past. Security programmes and research laboratories in Asia are largely supported due to the impact of these issues.
European countries have developed numerous response plans to counter a bioterrorist attack by creating different strategies and communication systems to aid different countries. Health risk assessments and support for research are also common in several European countries, so delegates in this bloc should have a general understanding of past resolutions that have been put into place and new preparedness plans that are most effective in protecting civilian populations. Countries that have dealt with biological threats in the past should share feasible plans and ideas to effectively reduce the harm that a bioterrorist attack could have.
In the past, the threat of bioterrorism has not been actively supported by governments of certain Middle Eastern countries that are actively involved in developing nuclear programs. Some zoonoses that are particularly dangerous are endemic to Middle East, such as Brucellosis. Middle Eastern countries have previously established emergency response plans in the case of terrorist attacks to best protect innocent civilians. Warfare programmes have also helped to ensure international cooperation and safe utilization of their resources.
Although it is less likely for countries in Latin America to be the target of a bioterrorist act, countries in this region currently have underdeveloped health services. South American countries are not actively involved in this issue but are associated with several organizations that target these health risks. Countries in South America also support medical facilities and technological resources that best help to protect its people. The countries with more developed health and scientific facilities tend to prevail in these type of issues, so working with countries that are advanced in medical training could be beneficial.
Questions to Consider
With the limited experience and lack of data relating to biological warfare agents, how can countries best protect populations?
Since there have not been a multitude of cases relating to this problem, what is the best way to evaluate and prevent bioterrorist attacks?
How do different organisms react to various doses?
Also, how will populations be able to detect signs of a bioterrorist attack?
What plans are proposed in your country as a method of informing civilians about bioterrorist warfare agents?
Are there any steps that your country can take to protect citizens ahead of time?
What types of technology is available in your country to carry out these measures?
In the case of a global bioterrorist attack, which steps or plans will your country follow to effectively protect its persons?
Are medical treatments available within your country? Are there a sufficient amount of resources to protect the people seeking medical aid?
Has your country had a direct experience with large scale bioterrorist attacks in the past?