WMA Calls For Verification System To Prevent Development Of Biological Weapons

An effective verification system to track down and stop the development and production of toxins and biological agents for use in terrorist attacks was called for today by the World Medical Association.

At its meeting in Ferney-Voltaire, France, the WMA Council urged the setting up of an international consortium of medical and public health leaders to monitor the threat of biological weapons, to identify action to prevent bioweapons proliferation, and to develop a plan for monitoring the worldwide emergence of infectious diseases.

The WMA said there was a need for:

  • the development of an effective verification protocol under the UN Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention;
  • the education of physicians and public health workers about emerging infectious diseases and potential biological weapons;
  • laboratory capacity to identify biological pathogens;
  • availability of appropriate vaccines and pharmaceuticals;
  • financial, technical, and research needs to reduce the risk of use of biological weapons and other major infectious disease threats.

Dr Delon Human, secretary general of the WMA, said that a verification protocol was now urgently needed to empower United Nations agencies to enter laboratories where they suspected that toxins were being developed for biological and chemical weapons and to confiscate material.

At its meeting the WMA recognized the growing threat that biological weapons might be used to cause devastating epidemics that could spread internationally and it warned that all countries were potentially at risk.

It said that the release of organisms causing smallpox, plague, anthrax and other diseases could prove catastrophic in terms of the resulting illnesses and deaths, compounded by the panic such outbreaks would generate. At the same time, there was a growing potential for production of new microbial agents, as expertise in biotechnology grew and methods for genetic manipulation of organisms became simpler. The consequences of a successful biological attack, especially if the infection were readily communicable, could far exceed those of a chemical or even a nuclear event. Given the ease of travel and increasing globalization, an outbreak anywhere in the world could be a threat to all nations.

The meeting approved a resolution urging national medical associations worldwide to take an active role in promoting an international ethos condemning the development, production, or use of toxins and biological agents that have no justification for prophylactic, protective, or other peaceful purposes.

The resolution urged physicians to be alert to the occurrence of unexplained illnesses and deaths in the community and knowledgeable of disease surveillance and control capabilities for responding to unusual clusters of diseases, symptoms, or presentations.

It encouraged physicians, national medical associations and other medical societies to participate with local, national, and international health authorities in developing and implementing disaster preparedness and response protocols for acts of bioterrorism and natural infectious disease outbreaks.

Finally the WMA urged all physicians who participate in biomedical research to consider the implications and possible applications of their work and to weigh carefully in the balance the pursuit of scientific knowledge with
their ethical responsibilities to society.