The BioRisk Association of the Philippines 2015, Inc. (BRAP2015) brought its annual convention to Iloilo City “where the past is always present”. Iloilo is one of the largest and fastest growing cities in the country and is known not only for its people’s warm hospitality, exquisite cuisine and fascinating history but also for their culture of compliance and discipline. Co-organized by PAMET Iloilo Chapter, the 3rd BRAP Annual Convention and 1st International Forum articulated the global changes, challenges and collaborations in biosafety, biosecurity and biorisk management in the Philippines, the Southeast Asia and the world. This was a historic event graced by three local and seven international experts and in authorities to deliver the latest, most accurate and trending information circulating within the realm of biosafety, biosecurity and biorisk management.
Days 1 and 2: July 16 and 17
Dr Cecelia V Williams of the Sandia National Laboratories, together with the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine’s IATA Certified Trainers Mr. Dave Tangcalagan and Ms. Catherine Anne Sacopon, conducted the IATA Transport of Infectious Substance Training and Certifying Examination. This training course has produced 28 certified shippers of infectious substances out of 28 participants.
Day 3: July 18
Three preconvention workshops were conducted simultaneously to reinforce essential concepts and to strengthen the participants’ ability to respond to day-to-day biosafety and biosecurity challenges. Participants were given the opportunity to choose the session that fits the level of their interest and needs. The topics offered for the preconvention workshop include Biosafety and Biosecurity 101 (by Dr. John Mark Velasco and Prof. Oliver Shane Dumaoal)., Biological Risk Assessment (by Mr. Plebeian Medina) and Biosafety Manual Writeshop (by Dr. Miguel Martin Moreno and Dr. Leila Lany Florento).
Day 4: July 19
The convention stage was set warm through a live cultural Filipino dance presentation symbolizing the gratitude of BRAP and PAMET to all the international speakers, local guests, sponsors and delegates from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao who made it in Iloilo City for the 3rd BRAP Convention and 1st International Forum.
The forum focused on four sessions that centered on global changes, updates and perspective on biosafety and biosecurity; gaps and challenges on biosafety, biosecurity and biorisk management in South East Asia (by Dr. TS Saraswathy Subraminiam); gaps and challenges on engineering control in SEA (by Mr. Kenny Chee and Dr. Amarger Alexandre); and partnership and collaboration in ensuring biosafety, biosecurity and biorisk management in resource-limited setting (emphasized in the lecture of Dr. Socorro Lupisan).
Published reports of laboratory-acquired infections (LAIs) (by Dr. Karen Byers) taught us that the cause of most LAIs is violation of basic and standard biosafety practices. LAI should not be a reason for us to stop research and conduct procedures with infectious agents. LAI provides useful case studies for biosafety training and review of laboratory procedures. Research is good, but it could cause harm in the hands of wrong people. Cutting-edge biotechnology advances (by Dr. Viji Vijayan) such as CRISPR and gain of function research promised extensive benefits in the form of uncovering new pathways for treatment of diseases and generating novel therapeutics but at the same time could also facilitate development of sophisticated biological weapons. Having access to pathogens is a point of concern, but having the correct information and the necessary means to use these pathogens to cause harm matters. Students are now becoming more competitive in conducting biological research making use of high-risk pathogenic agents in universities that do not have appropriate facility, equipment and practices. With or without direct supervision, the possibility that a person could be radicalized is not unreal. Therefore, there must be an oversight for the national, institutional, down to the operational level in the laboratories. As a signatory of the International Health Regulations, we have the shared responsibility as regard to dual-use research and to analyze its impact on the effort to devise oversight system and promote ethical practices. Dr. Irma Makalinao in her talk on Agroterrorism and Biosecurity stated that this concern in now posing a threat to national security and that “we should take comprehensive steps towards biosecurity considering impacts to human, animal, plant and environmental health and the country’s economy.)”
One of the most common identified gaps is the lack of awareness and the necessary management system. The international Organization for Standardization (ISO) has taken on the task to standardized biorisk management on an international basis. ISO promotes standardization toward continuous improvement. Transitioning from CWA 15793:2011 to ISO 35001 (by Dr. Cecelia Williams) prepares a harmonized performance-based approach to biorisk management that an institution may apply universally including the developing countries. With ISO 35001, complying to standards is like keeping yourself safe. Laboratories must believe in and follow all the words written in our Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). The procedures written in SOP must commensurate the risk; therefore, we must conduct our local risk assessment before doing anything else.
The Bureau of Quarantine of the Philippines (represented by Dr. Mely delos Santos-Estrada) has recently implemented new guidelines that facilitate compliance to international shipping regulations and promotes biosecurity. The benefits, challenges and risks of its implementation have been discussed. This was briefly presented in her short talk.
Southeast Asia shares common challenges (says Dr. Viji Vijayan). We are challenged in terms of awareness and in keeping everyone updated and interested to comply; we are challenged in implementing existing international standards; we are challenged due to the lack of appropriate facility, equipment and the engineering capacity at par with the international standards; and we are challenged because of the lack of local legislations. Most of developing countries need to develop local biosafety and biosecurity legislations. However, we can still advance biosafety and biosecurity even without legislation or while waiting for it to be published. At times words of mouth and testimonials are important to move biosafety programs and make people more engaged.
A laboratory can still work safely in laboratory given the above-listed challenges in a resource-limited setting. To be able to respond to an emerging infectious disease threat, we must ensure compliance to the basic containment standards (BSL2) and that we should be able to apply enhancements when the circumstances requires. Compliance does not have to be expensive; it just have to fit the purpose.
Laboratory challenges propel us to continuously evolve into a collaborative network of a biosafety culture (according to Dr. Prasad Kuduvalli). Global efforts and collaboration lessen the gaps. Organization like the Health Security Partners (HSP) is strengthening local capacity for biosafety and biosecurity in the context of ensuring that health systems are resilient to outbreak of high consequence infectious diseases. For HSP, locally led activities, such as what BRAP is partnering with HSP, are vital toward a sustainable capacity building for countries, institution and professionals.
The 4-day convention concluded with a fellowship night where the local and international experts, BRAP officers, sponsors and delegates get together in a sumptuous Iloilo dinner with live band playing upbeat music and rhythm and raffle prizes for convention attendees.
Plebeian B Medina, RMT, MSMT, CBO, IFBA CP
3rd BRAP Convention and 1st International Forum