On 27 September, the Implementation Support Unit (ISU) of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) held a workshop to strengthen the implementation of the Convention in G5 Sahel Member States Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. The event was organized in collaboration with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the Bundeswehr Institute of Microbiology (IMB).
Mr. Daniel Feakes, Chief of the BWC ISU, opened the event by noting that fully implementing the Biological Weapons Convention plays an important role in increasing countries’ national preparedness and response capabilities, which in turn benefit their public health sector as well as their defense against biological weapons. Additionally, he explained that the Convention also promotes the peaceful uses of biology and can help countries build their national biotechnology sectors.
Mr. Erik Tintrup, Deputy Head of the Division for Biological and Chemical Weapons at the German Federal Foreign Office and Director of the German Biosecurity Programme, explained that the G5 Sahel Member States and Germany closely cooperate in the frame of the German Enable and Enhance Initiative (E2I) in order to strengthen regional biosecurity capacities in case of unintentional as well as deliberate release of pathogens. Such cooperation includes developing capacity in the area of diagnostics, biosafety, and biosecurity; creating a G5 Sahel rapid response team that is equipped with a mobile lab, scientific support and exchange; and providing relevant technology and equipment.
Dr. Alex Lampalzer and Ms. Fanny Tonos Paniagua, representing the BWC ISU, briefed the participants on the Biological Weapons Convention and best practices for its national implementation. It is important to appoint BWC contact points, said Dr. Lampalzer, who also encouraged States Parties to use the BWC Sponsorship Programme for attending Treaty meetings. Ms. Tonos underlined the importance and benefits of putting in place national legislation, which represents a prerequisite for prosecuting any related offenses and also contributes to fulfilling the obligations under Security Council Resolution 1540.
Next, Dr. Talkmore Maruta, representing the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (ACDC), mentioned that certain capacity gaps require efforts to increase biosecurity on the African continent as a whole. One key activity to close these gaps, he said, was the recently launched Biosafety and Biosecurity Initiative (BBI) and the adoption of a Biosafety and Biosecurity Legal Framework.
Dr. Olga Spaiser, project manager for the G5 Sahel biosecurity program at the GIZ moderated the subsequent sessions on the concrete situation in the G5 Sahel countries. Her colleague Ms. Annette Bremer, head of the German Biosecurity Program and the Enable and Enhance Initiative on Biosecurity at GIZ, began by outlining the main goals of the biosecurity project and the structure of the G5 Sahel Biosafety Network. Dr. Pina Knauff, project manager at the IMB and Prof. Mohamed Bollahi, Coordinator of the G5 Sahel Biosafety Network highlighted its key achievements to date. Some milestones, they said, include the delivery of a modular, rapidly deployable mobile laboratory to the G5 Sahel countries’ biosafety network; a joint field exercise with the mobile lab in 2019; the deployment of the mobile lab in Mali in 2020 to support COVID-19 diagnostics; and biosafety and biosecurity workshops. Additionally, future activities include training on risk and crisis communication and a joint field exercise with the participation of all G5 Sahel countries.
Key stakeholders from each G5 Sahel partner country then provided a granular account of their countries’ respective needs and capacities. Mr. Prof. Mohamed A. Bollahi, current coordinator of the G5 Sahel Biosecurity Network and Director of the National Institute of Research in Public Health (INRSP) in Mauritania, pointed out that despite the strong commitment of the authorities the legislative and institutional structures in the country still need to be strengthened. Further biosecurity challenges include waste management, risk transport and high need for training.
Dr. Thérèse Kagone, technical director at the Muraz Centre, a key national health research institution in Burkina Faso, added that her country’s access to a deployable, mobile laboratory is crucial to tackle any disease outbreak, and presented lessons from earlier deployments in the G5 Sahel region. Additionally, she made recommendations to further strengthen the G5 Sahel biosecurity network to ensure its longevity and effectiveness.
Dr. Brehima Traoré, an associate biologist at the Charles Mérieux Center for Infectious Diseases (CICM) in Mali, informed participants that Mali’s government, with the support of international partners, had adopted new laws, established biosecurity training institutions, and improved veterinary controls in response to threats stemming from bioterrorism and political instability. While these are important steps, the challenges such as bioterrorism, detection capacities and lack of trained personnel remain.
Dr. Adamou Lagaré, Head of the National Reference Laboratory at the Center for Medical and Health Research (CERMES) in Niger and Dr. Henry Fissou, in charge of viral diagnostics in Chad, concluded the workshop by taking a bird’s eye view of the various achievements and remaining capacity gaps in their respective countries.
In closing, Mr. Tintrup expressed his gratitude to the G5 Sahel countries and noted that the initiative has been extended until 2023. As a result of the event, additional bilateral meetings will be held to discuss further cooperation and assistance opportunities.