Biosecurity, a relative term composite of ‘biological’ and ‘security’ with no official definition ascribed to it. It can be attributed with different meanings depending on where it is used contextually.
Generally, it refers to all the processes associated with maintaining the health of biological organisms. It involves quarantine and isolation protocols as the main mechanism that does the actual job in conserving biodiversity and thus prevents disease transmission from one part of globe to another. Many definitions of it focus on the processes associated with protecting humans from the dreadful impact of harmful biological and biochemical substances released into the environment due to one or other anthropogenic activities.
This particular definition of it tends to link this biosecurity with bioterrorism which has recently emerged as greatest threat to generations together. When we talk of bioterrorism as a threat, it implies the deliberate introduction of a pest, disease, microbe, virus or anything that can cause harm to biological diversity in particular humans. In precise scientific terminology, when any biological entity either a pest, infectious agent including microbe or virus is used as a weapon like for example anthrax constitutes bioterrorism.
Even, if any organism is introduced into any area, previously not endemic to it is a case of bioterrorism because it can create destruction via a viz by destroying native species through their superior r strategy or by carrying infection into place of introduction. The recent emergence of Coronavirus pandemic from Wuhan area of China was in part thought as a well chalked out conspiracy against other superpower countries with no evidential matter coming out as yet.
Biosafety, on the other end refers to adherence to safety protocols in a laboratory place or when dealing with a pest or disease organism to prevent contamination and infection. The operational protocols followed to maintain safety and containment when working with biological organisms is the main mechanism in biosafety and ensures biosecurity as well.
It mainly focuses on the safety parameters of the humans working with these types of organisms/chemicals and involves the wearing of personal protective equipment and use of fume hoods. Failure to contain a biohazard could have adverse impact on our environment, economy or we also, thereby also impacting biosecurity.
If we consider an example, insects are the most abundant biological warfare agents who can easy sneak across borders, reproduce quickly, spread diseases, and can even devastate crops. The costs by virtue of this destruction could easily escalate into billions of dollars and the resulting disruption of food supply and our sense of well-being could also be devastating beyond our imagination.
The recent emergence of locust threat destroying crops across continents has got the immediate attention of everybody of how to tackle these emergent eventualities seriously impacting our biodiversity. Maintaining pest and disease-free status is vital for any country to have on-going productivity, sustainability, quality of agriculture, industries and trade.
Any introduction (natural or not) of pests and diseases can cause serious production losses, can jeopardize imports/exports, and can have significant impact on economy, environmental and social structure. A case example from Ireland between 1845-57 where over one million people starved to death due to potato late blight disease which wiped out a vital food crop. Some another two million people emigrated to avoid the famine and the Irish population has never recovered to pre-outbreak levels.
In a similar incidence, the introduction of 24 rabbits to Australia in 1859 for hunting is another good example. In Australia, rabbits are now found over 4.5 million square km area and cause more than $200 million damage annually, citing how challenging or damaging the natural ecosystem could emulate destruction beyond conceptual levels, if disturbed.
These impacts as the drivers (reasons) for biosecurity to be taken seriously and has associated
economic drivers as well including the impact of pests and diseases can have from a commercial perspective. On a similar note, environmental drivers include the impact these challenges can have on both the natural and built environments impacting sustainability. And then, the
Social drivers infact, impacting psychological well-being of humans and can be even more devastating.
The ultimate aim of any country is to maintain a disease-free status, particularly in terms of trade and tourism. However, ever increasing volumes of travel for people, cargo and mail, and the potential for pest/insect incursions creates an on-going challenge to maintain this free status.
Other country based attempts increasing the risk factor is because of growing tourism, intensive crop production, increasing trade of perishable products like fruits and vegetables, acquiring of chemical resistance in pest populations, etc. Increased need for biosecurity is therefore being felt and has grown in tandem with globalization and turning of whole world into a small global village.
Every country efforts lie in preventing potential and possible incursions of pests/microbes/viruses. However if it does occur, early detection and restrictive measures put in place increases the probability of eradication and containment of transmission and subsequent disease emergence can be achieved.
This rapid response involves a coordinated series of activities aimed at minimizing risk: responding rapidly to an incursion and then, if a pest or disease becomes established, implementing biosecurity strategies to manage it.
These activities occur across a continuum known as the ‘biosecurity continuum’. This continuum involves three stages in the invasion process:
In all these incursive modes, surveillance is crucial, and knowing whether the pest is pre-border, border or post-border will determine the actions to be taken. One Health Approach is an approach in designing and implementing these crucial programmes, policies, legislation and research at multiple levels in which different sectors communicate with each other and work together to achieve better public health outcomes.
The threat on account of damage to biodiversity and emerging bioterrorism are managed through strict regulatory frameworks and prevention activities that include import risk analyses, surveillance and inspection procedures, world class research for development of diagnostic methods, preparation of emergency response and management protocols.
At the core of it, all of this requires collaboration between a range of agencies and disciplines designed as “One Health approach”. Since routes and paths of pest, germ or virus invasion are complex, preventing and responding to pest or disease incursions requires a multidisciplinary approach, including input from experts in Human Health, Animal Health, Environment Science and Ecology. That is why the One Health approach is essential in achieving a strong and efficient biosecurity system.
In recent times, there has been an increase in public participation in surveillance. This ‘Citizen Science’ as called, whereby surveillance activities are designed so that the general public is actively able to take part in and contribute to pest and disease investigations in a meaningful way, in essence, being an essential contributor to the One Health approach.
To protect against possible pandemics in future also, everyone needs to take responsibility. Whilst it's very easy to sit back and do nothing for anyone. This way we would be very quickly threatened by pests, viruses and diseases as there will be more incursions due to global trade reaching our finger tips and managed from home only. Ensuring biosecurity is not a simple task and no way the sole responsibility of the government agencies only.
Infact, it require coordinated efforts from government, public, industry and academic in tandem to be part of this shared responsibility. When the community, government, and industry all work together, we create a really good biosecurity system based on early reporting.
This provides the greatest chance of protecting ourselves, our animals, and the environment from pests and diseases and also minimizing the future chances of pandemics.