Tunis, Tunisia

Regional Table Top Exercise

Within the framework of the OIE’s strategy for bio-threat reduction and in support of the recommendations of the first Global Conference on Biological Threat Reduction (2015), the OIE convened on July 11-13 in Tunis (Tunisia) a table top exercise in the context of capacity building activities, with the objective to build bridges between animal health and law enforcement sectors. As a matter of fact, an effective response to an intentional release of a pathogen requires cooperative and coordinated action to be taken by both sectors. It is relatively uncommon for law enforcers and veterinarians to work together in their day to day activities, thus proactive engagement is required to build mutual understanding, trust, respect and cooperation.

The overall objectives of this workshop were:

  • to strengthen functional links between the veterinary health and security / law enforcement sectors;
  • to identify gaps and detect strengths and weaknesses;
  • to make actionable recommendations to sustainably improve preparedness and response to biocrimes involving animal pathogens.

The organisations involved in this Global Partnership Programme are: OIE, INTERPOL, UNICRI, WHO, FAO, IZSAM Teramo and CIRAD.

Representatives of both sectors, animal health and law enforcement, from countries of North Africa (Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia) and Middle East (Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon) attended this workshop. Unfortunately, representatives of Saudi Arabia and Syria could not be present in Tunis.

The workshop was officially opened by the State Secretary in charge of agricultural production at the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries of Tunisia, Mr Omar El Behi, along with the Ambassador of Canada in Tunisia, Mrs Carol McQueen, Dr Mariano Ramos representative of the OIE Headquarters based in Paris (France) and Mrs Rebecca Hoile, ‎Head of Bioterrorism Prevention Unit at INTERPOL Headquarters based in Lyon (France).

 

Also present for the official opening ceremony: the Chief Veterinary Officer of Tunisia, Dr Malek Zrelli and the OIE Sub-Regional Representative for North Africa, Dr Rachid Bouguedour. The workshop was driven and animated by Dr Mariano Ramos (OIE) and Mrs Rebecca Hoile (INTERPOL).The workshop was also facilitated by experts from CIRAD, FAO, OIE Collaborating Centre IZSAM of Teramo (Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale dell’Abruzzo e del Molise “Giuseppe Caporale”), UNICRI and WHO.
Examples of biological or chemical attacks were highlighted by the representative of INTERPOL, Mrs Rebecca Hoile. She described the term of agroterrorism as a subset of bioterrorism, defined as the deliberate introduction of animal or plant pests with the goal of generating fear, causing economic damage, and/or undermining social stability.

She also stressed the following characteristics:

  • agroterrorism doesn’t require a very high level of technical expertise;
  • agents are available in nature, or labs with low level security;
  • agents are easy to take through security checks undetected;
  • agents are straightforward to propagate;
  • synthetic biology brings new possibilities.

Through table-top exercises during interactive working group sessions, the different aspects of the surveillance, the link between animal health and law enforcement sectors and their collaborative work, the implementation of a common framework on security, the preparedness and response, the biosecurity, the communication, the capacity building, were discussed. One scenario was about the intentional release of a pathogen, the Rinderpest Virus, which is only stored in laboratories since the disease has been eradicated.

Major recommendations of the workshop:

  • A common framework actionable during joint investigations needs to be put in place;
  • Development of inventories in laboratories in the regions of Middle East and North Africa: characterization of animal pathogens kept in facilities containing biological materials is essential in suggesting a possible accidental release;
  • Testing of possible common frameworks implementation by using endemic animal pathogens models would be also desirable;
  • Development of joint raising awareness activities, seminars and workshops, simulation exercises, and other joint capacity building activities in order to strengthen capacities and functional links between the animal health and law enforcement sectors;
  • Establish a Regional Committee (regional cooperation) including the animal health, law enforcement, human health, agriculture, environment sectors and any other relevant authority for development, implementation and follow up of a sustainable regional action plan;
  • To take advantage of the established and operational network of Chief Veterinary Officers in place for the Mediterranean region since 2009 (REMESA: Mediterranean Animal Health Network) to continue debating and informing relevant aspects;
  • Traceability and custody of the samples in bioterrorism suspicion. Best practices for chain of custody.

This workshop showed a high level of interactivity between both sectors of animal health and law enforcement which should be involved in biothreat management in the near future

All pictures © J. Mérot (oie) 2017.

All pictures © J. Mérot (oie) 2017.

Share this post