The dual use research in life sciences has raised serious concerns for bio-safety and bio-security today as there exists possibilities of misuse of knowledge, information, products and technologies to promote bio-terrorism or bio-warfare activities. Misuse may pose consequential threat to public health and safety, agricultural crops and other plants, animals, the environment, material or national security. India has strict and robust regulations on bio-safety and bio-security policies that provide adequate safeguards for responsible conduct and oversight of life sciences research. However, safety measures are far from satisfactory and the implementation agencies are weak. There is an acute shortage of technically-trained manpower and machinery to strictly enforce the regulatory system.
The threat of emerging infectious diseases is a product of the globalisation process. Changing lifestyles, patterns of behaviour and several such complex factors have led to the emergence and spread of disease in India. Outbreak of diseases like SARS, Japanese encephalitis, dengue, chickungunya, malaria and bird flu, etc., in recent times, have critically influenced human lives in India. Added to this, is the spectre of biological terrorism. This can potentially make a state vulnerable to threats.
Consider this: The reputation of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, regarded a premier institute for thousands of medical and health care professionals, students and researchers, has been tarnished by a deadly dengue outbreak. How ironic it may sound, the sprawling premise, cramped with quarters and not far from an active but stagnant drain, actually serves as a haven for mosquitoes and other disease carrying vectors.
In January 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that HIV/AIDS has killed 25 million people since it was first identified twenty-five years ago, in 1981. In India, the first case of HIV was detected in Chennai in 1986. Now, as per UNAIDS estimate, the HIV affected people in India is staggering 5.7 million. NACO (National Aids Control Organisation) has put the figure to be 5.2 million. India is second only to South Africa in terms of the overall number of people living with the disease. Although, the statistics vary with various reports, the threat within persists.
Recently ‘Bush and Co’ visited Asia to solve the nuclear riddle of North Korea. But along with discussions on nuclear issues at different forums they also attempted to ‘educate’ Asians on various other issues. President Bush had issued a carefully calibrated call for greater liberty throughout Asia, implicitly comparing the "free and democratic Chinese society" in Taiwan with repression in Mainland China. Talking in context of spread of Avian (Bird) Flu, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had also taken an indirect potshot at China.
The deadly Japanese Encephalitis (JE) killed over twelve hundred people in less than four months in northern India and neighboring Nepal. The disease has gripped more than 25 districts of Uttar Pradesh, some parts of Bihar in India and Kailali, Banke, Bardiya districts of the Himalayan Kingdom. The situation has deteriorated due to unexpected revival of monsoon in mid September across north India, coupled with a shortfall of vaccines and life-saving drugs.
The world is still recuperating from the onslaught of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) that killed 774 persons and spread to almost every corner of the globe in 2003-04. The World Health Organisation (WHO) warns that we are again closer to experience the next pandemic, Bird Flu (Avian Influenza). David Heymann of WHO recently observed that the ‘world is at great risk of a new pandemic of deadly bird flu, but is ill prepared to handle it’.