Cablegate: Biosecurity Engagement Program: Balancing Public Health With
RR RUEHLH RUEHPW
DE RUEHIL #0581/01 0400959
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
R 090959Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4967
INFO RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUMICEA/USCENTCOM INTEL CEN MACDILL AFB FL
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHLH/AMCONSUL LAHORE 4768
RUEHKP/AMCONSUL KARACHI 8862
RUEHPW/AMCONSUL PESHAWAR 3456
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 ISLAMABAD 000581
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/09/2018
TAGS: TBIO PTER TSPL ETTC PK
SUBJECT: BIOSECURITY ENGAGEMENT PROGRAM: BALANCING PUBLIC HEALTH WITH
NATIONAL SECURITY IN PAKISTAN
Classified by: Deputy Chief of Mission Peter W. Bodde for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1.(S) Summary: In response to emerging infectious diseases such as avian influenza, Pakistan is rapidly developing plans to enhance its public health infrastructure, including biocontainment facilities and national regulations on the safe handling of dangerous pathogens. The Department's Biosecurity Engagement Program (BEP) began work with the Government of Pakistan (GOP) in 2007 to assist in developing safe, secure and sustainable public health infrastructure that ensures transparency, meets international standards and fosters collaboration with the U.S. and other international partners. Over recent weeks, BEP representatives in Islamabad have met with GOP officials, many of which requested assistance in the construction of proposed biosafety level 3 (BSL3) facilities and increased collaboration with BEP. The Executive Director of Pakistan's National Institute of Health also expressed interest in a personnel reliability program to screen for "extremists" or other groups looking to gain access to pathogen collections. This cable is the second in a series of five outlining BEP progress in Pakistan. End summary.
2.(SBU) In a follow up to summer 2007 meetings with Ministry of Health (MOH) officials in Islamabad, BEP Director Dr. Jason Rao met with Secretary of Health Khushnood Akhtar Lashari, who proposed further areas of collaboration. Lashari thanked the BEP for its sponsorship of MOH staff to attend biosecurity training sessions and emphasized the training's positive impact on the Ministry. Secretary Lashari requested further U.S. assistance to develop biosafety guidelines, a resource center for biosecurity and biosafety training and undertake a national survey of potentially dangerous pathogens. Lashari has appointed a team to develop national biosafety guidelines, as well as begin a baseline survey of pathogens in the country's research institutions. The Secretary commented that Pakistan's National Association of Pathologists, the lead organization on both of these initiatives, lacked expertise to carry the projects to completion.
ASSISTANCE FOR BIOSAFETY LEVEL THREE LABORATORIES
3.(SBU) Pakistan's National Institute of Health (NIH) has begun work on a biosafety level three (BSL3) laboratory. Initial plans call for the lab to be modular and pre-fabricated, located inside a brick and mortar shell. The outer shell is currently under construction. According to NIH officials, lab construction has stalled due to funding shortages. Details on the manufacturer of the modular lab, engineering design and time line for completion were not disclosed. NIH Executive Director, General (retired) Dr. Masood Anwar, expressed concerns about laboratory design flaws and cost overruns and requested BEP assistance in reviewing design implementation. BEP has begun to work with MOH staff to develop an action plan for implementation. Executive Director Anwar invited BEP representatives to join weekly BSL3 lab working group meetings.
4.(S) Representatives of the Pakistan Agricultural Research Center (PARC) also requested assistance in the design and operation of a planned BSL3 facility to be built at PARC headquarters in Islamabad. The Japan International Aid organization (JICA) has agreed to sponsor most of the laboratory construction costs. BEP plans to eventually provide substantive experts to the PARC BSL3 working group. PARC houses a full range of viral and bacterial pathogens, including dangerous agents such as anthrax, FMD (foot and mouth disease), brucellosis and highly pathogenic avian influenza. Virtually no biosecurity measures were observed during March and June 2007 visits to PARC, but by early February 2008, dedicated safety officers and improved security practices were in place.
DEFENSE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY ORGANIZATION
5.(S) The Defense Science and Technology Organization (DESTO) has requested meetings with BEP officials to continue discussions on biological and chemical safety. BEP has met several times with DG Major General Guftar Shah. Shah requested BEP involvement in DESTO's development of a biological and chemical detection and response capability, both to ensure transparency and add technical insight. Shah has led two delegations to the U.S. to initiate collaboration in this area and BEP teams toured the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in March 2007 and provided biosafety training to AFIP personnel in June 2007. BEP also plans to tour DESTO's Karachi facilities to provide a baseline assessment of safety and security practices there. COMMENT ISLAMABAD 00000581 002 OF 002
6.(SBU) The BEP has utilized engagement, training and exchanges to highlight the importance of biosecurity to GOP representatives and its role in non-proliferation efforts. Several ministries view the program as adding value to Pakistan's efforts to combat both bioterrorism and emerging infectious diseases. BEP assistance serves a dual benefit in addressing real threats to international security while at the same time strengthening efforts to safely and transparently expand Pakistan's public health infrastructure. We hope that this synergy will increase as a result of the establishment of a dedicated BEP office in Pakistan. PATTERSON