Public Health Institute of Malawi

The first technical working group (TWG) for biosafety and biosecurity took place in Lilongwe on Nov 7 th and 8 th 2023. The purpose of the meeting was to finalise the national guidelines as well as to initiate a long-standing collaboration to safeguard workers and society from dangers of bio-hazards.

As he opened the meeting, Mr Joseph Bitilinyu, the acting director of PHIM, commented that biosafety and biosecurity has a high priority, both for Malawi and for the African Union.

The new TWG consist of prominent representatives from several sectors of society. Experts from both animal, human, agriculture and environmental health as well as from police, defence and academia were present. Experts from collaborating partners were also attending the TWG meeting.

The ongoing outbreak of anthrax in neighbouring Zambia illustrates core questions of biosafety and biosecurity, as it is dangerous for animals and humans and can be used for bioterror. “Biosafety” elates to assuring that biological materials do not harm the persons handling them. “Biosecurity” relates to minimizing the risk that biological material comes astray to threaten the society. Risk assessment is the foundation of good biosafety and biosecurity and should answer three questions; What are the chances of the adverse advent? How severe would it be if it happened? What can we do to mitigate the risks?

Through two full days, the current situation in Malawi and the rest of the world was presented, but emphasis was put on thorough discussion of each paragraph of the guidelines. It was agreed that Mr.Mabvuto Chiwaula and his team, who has lead this work so far, was trusted to incorporate all the comments into the draft guidelines before getting the final go-ahead.

On closing the meeting, all members expressed their will to continue their contribution to the TWG. Several participants commented that both the meeting and the document is a milestone of its own, while other added that it is rare to come to such a truly multisectoral meeting. Another commented that “One Health is a song that we are all tuned into after this meeting”.

Visiting experts from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, PHIMs sister institute, did not go home empty handed. Head of department dr Siri Feruglio, commented that it was indeed very inspiring and impressive, and even touching, to see the constructive and nice way the members of different parts of society collaborate and contribute for the common good.

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