Researchers in the UK and the US found that three-quarters of the 59 biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) facilities around the world that handle dangerous pathogens have low biosecurity and biosafety levels, according to a new report.
The measurements are based the Global Health Security Index, which looks at whether countries have legislations, regulations, oversight agencies, policies and training on biosafety and biosecurity is put in place.
The 59 facilities include those in operation, under construction or planned, and span 23 countries, including the UK, US, China and India.
The team also notes that three-quarters of these labs sit in urban areas, more than half are government run and the rest are in universities.
Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has gained attention during the coronavirus pandemic, is show with a medium ranking for biosafety and biosecurity, while the National Health Laboratory in Saudi Arabia was low across the board.
These facilities include those in operation, under construction or planned, and span 23 countries, including the UK, US, China, and India. The team also notes that three-quarters of these labs sit in urban areas, more than half are government run and the rest are in universities
Gregory Koblentz, an associate professor of biodefense at George Mason University, and Filippa Lentzos at King’s College London, conducted the research to determine how many pass safety protocols.
The team suggests that the World Health Organization should be responsible for the oversight of such facilities, in a bid to ensure all labs are up to par with current protocols.
‘Our study also revealed that there was significant room for improvement in the policies in place to ensure that these labs were operated safely, securely and responsibly,’ Koblentz and Lentzos wrote in the Guardian.
‘The vast majority of countries with BSL-4 labs do not conduct oversight of the type of gain-of-function research that has been a central feature in the debate on COVID-19’s origin, as potentially responsible for the possible leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology,’ they added.
Wuhan Institute of Virology is among 59 labs that handles dangerous pathogens
The biosafety and biosecurity scores are based on the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s Global Health Security Index, which measures ‘whether countries have the requisite legal and institutional components of national biosafety and biosecurity oversight systems.’
‘We used national-level data on biosafety, biosecurity, and dual-use research oversight generated by the Global Health Security Index produced by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, Koblentz told DailyMail.com in an email.
‘NTI measured if countries had laws, regulations, policies, institutions, and training in place to provide a comprehensive whole-of-government approach to biorisk management. Based on this data, we categorized countries as having high, medium, or low levels of biosafety and biosecurity preparedness. ‘
Europe is home to the most BSL-4 labs with 25, while North America and Asia have roughly the same, with 14 and 13 facilities, respectively.
All the labs in the US are ranked as ‘high’ in both biosecurity and biosafety, while all three in Africa are low.
Only 40 percent of nations with BSL-4 labs are members of the International Experts Group of Biosafety and Biosecurity, which is where regulators share best practices on handling dangerous pathogens.
Members include Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Singapore, Switzerland, the UK and the US.
The biosafety and biosecurity scores are based on the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s Global Health Security Index, which measures ‘whether countries have the requisite legal and institutional components of national biosafety and biosecurity oversight systems’
The new report has raised concerned among experts who fear relaxed controls and regulations at some locations could spark another pandemic.
‘The larger the number of institutions and the larger the number of individuals with access to these dangerous agents, the greater the risk,’ Richard Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University, told the Financial Times. ‘
Accidents and leaks already happen in very large numbers, especially in places that have weaker biosafety standards.’
‘We need to strengthen biosafety and biosecurity rules around the world’ Ebright added.