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Thursday, 4 October, 2001, 12:17 GMT 13:17 UK
Doctors call for bio-terror action
Scientists work on an anthrax vaccine
Supplies of vaccines are inadequate
Doctors have called for concerted international action to combat the danger of chemical and biological weapons.

They say an international consortium of medical and public health experts should be set up to monitor the threat of biological weapons.

And that doctors and scientists should communicate more about potential threats and collaborate on work on vaccines and drugs to combat biological attacks.

The threat of bio-terrorism was discussed by doctors from around the world at a meeting in the French town of Ferney-Voltaire, near the border with Switzerland, on Thursday.

The meeting was convened by the World Medical Association (WMA), which brings together the professional medical bodies of over 70 nations.

The attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon last month have aroused many people's fears of biological and chemical weapons such as smallpox, anthrax and the plague.


There's clearly a role in terms of public health, in helping to plan for the event of an attack on a city

Dr Vivienne Nathanson
Dr Richard Corlin, President of the American Medical Association, told the meeting that future terrorist attacks throughout the world are unlikely to follow the same pattern as previous events.

He said: "We are deeply concerned about the possibility of future terrorist attacks making use of chemical and/or biological weapons and we need a globally co-ordinated effort to prepare for such an event".

Dr Corlin said technological advances had made it possible for small terrorist groups to manufacture biological and chemical weapons which once could only have been developed by national governments with advanced infrastructures.

Consortium

The American Medical Association submitted a proposed policy to the WMA calling for an international consortium of experts to monitor the threat, help train physicians and other health professionals in response methods and to build up adequate supplies of vaccines and pharmaceuticals.

Dr David Heymann, World Health Organization Executive Director, called for greater collaboration between the WHO and national medical associations worldwide.

He also emphasised the need for more interaction between the health and military and defence departments to make effective preparations to combat the use of chemical and biological agents.

Dr Delon Human, secretary general of the WMA, said that the association was developing a communication network between individual physicians and national medical associations to more effectively respond to potential future events.

Physicians are being encouraged to be alert to the occurrence of unexplained illnesses and deaths in all communities, and to communicate this information to the local or national health authorities.

Planning for attack

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Head of Ethics and Science at the British Medical Association said there was a clear need for doctors to get involved.

"There's clearly a role in terms of public health, in helping to plan for the event of an attack on a city, say, to try to make sure that governments are producing the right kinds of vaccines, have them in the right places, and have policies in place for dealing with potentially thousands of critically ill people."

The logistics involved in trying to prepare for an attack involving biological weapons are formidable.

Vaccines do exist for bacteria such as anthrax and plague, but supplies are nowhere near the levels needed to immunise whole populations, and in some cases the safety of the vaccines has never been properly evaluated.

There is also a vast range of bacteria and viruses which could potentially be used.

The best defence against such an attack is to prevent it from happening in the first place.


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See also:

02 Oct 01 | Health
24 Sep 01 | Science/Nature
25 Jul 01 | Americas
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