Parliament should fast track enactment of Biosecurity and Biosafety laws

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The continued absence of a legal framework to cushion Kenya against threats of biological threats emanating from chemicals and knowledge within our borders, as seen the extensive presence of contraband goods has exposed Kenyans to a lot of danger.

The national threat levels from chemicals, that has been exposed by the Dr Fred Matiangi led war on contraband and substandard goods including sugar, mineral water, juices, fertilizers among others would give enough room for the ministry of interior to express fears that Kenya is at risk of a biological event, whether accidental, intentional, or naturally occurring.

The exposure to biological threats arises from the fact that not enough measures including legislation, standards and capacity building to mitigate the likely possibility of a biological threat in the country have been done in Country. How adequately is Kenya prepared to deal with such threats, and given the laxity shown by existing regulatory agencies to deal safety standards in the country, what is the risks, and would that be the reason why the Ministry of Interior is reacting in such a manner towards revelations on contraband goods? As in other countries, there is increased use of money accrued from illegal activities including money laundering, trade in contraband goods and poaching to fund terrorist activities.

There are intensified calls for Parliament fast track the enactment of the Biosecurity and Biosafety law, which was now at the Technical Committee of the National Assembly. Already aware of the possibilities of such threats, the Government of Kenya has signed agreements with the Governments of Denmark and USA to strengthen its readiness to deal with such threats. The passing of the law will see the establishment of a Biosafety Agency, which will work with health research and academic institutions to develop safety measures and mitigation interventions. The relevant Parliamentary Committees and the majority leader in Parliament must fast track this bill, so that we get a legal framework that will fill in the gaps in that area before criminals exploits the loophole.

Suffice to note that already, experts have raised concerns about the dangers associated with the prevalence of dangerous biological pathogens found in health facilities and academic/research institutions, which present serious threats to national, regional and global stability in Kenya. A biosecurity survey in Kenya carried out in 2015 found that labs in Kenya store at least 16 dangerous biological pathogens, less than 50 % of the labs have an inventory list while 2 Labs reported that dangerous biological agents had disappeared from its stores without trace.

Through a Kenya and Denmark partnership established in 2014, experts from Denmark have been working with research and academic institutions in Kenya to strengthen the implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention, including through the implementation of biosecurity measures. The partnership includes technical support and support to workshops, high-level meetings and development of a draft bioscience bill that supported by the Danish Centre for Biosecurity and Biopreparedness (CBB).

Similarly, under the among the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA)/Cooperative Biological Engagement Program (CBEP), a collaborative project between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Kenya that focuses on Cooperation in Threat Reduction Biological Engagement Programs, a number of activities are going on.

Facilities including KEMRI, Kenyatta National Hospital, Moi Referral and Teaching Hospital, Kenya Bureau of Standards, The Government Chemist and a host of universities where health sciences are taught use and store a lot of chemicals, which if misused or are mishandled could be used as weapons of mass destruction while at the same time, people working in the laboratories, could turn out to be potential agents of doom, of they use the knowledge for violent extremism reasons.

The writer works at the Media Council of Kenya and can be reached at vicbwire@gmail.com

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