|No Easy Fix to Combat Bio-Terrorism, Expert Says |
No Easy Fix to Combat Bio-Terrorism, Expert Says
By Joe Burlas, Army News Service.
Washington D.C. -- (ANS) November 16, 2001 -- While most Americans may say they want zero risk of being impacted by biological warfare, the country cannot afford the cost of such an absolute requirement, according to one of the Army's top biological warfare experts.
Maj. Gen. John S. Parker, commanding general of Fort Detrick, Md., and the Army's Medical Research and Material Command, made that observation while addressing the Fletcher Conference on how the country might counter bio-terrorism. The conference, jointly sponsored by the Army and the Institute for Foreign Policy, was held in Washington Nov. 14-15 under the theme of "National Security for a New Era: Focusing National Power."
"In the 35 years I've worn this uniform, I have always had the mission of detecting and reacting to biological attack, but I always thought we would be doing it in a far-off land'" Parker said. "Our recent experiences with anthrax demonstrate that it all boils down to one person wanting to know, 'Am I going to get ill?' Everyone wants to know if they are personally at risk."
Though Americans say they want the government to ensure they are totally protected from dying due to a biological terrorist attack, they are willing to put up with a lot of other lethal risks, Parker said. He listed a number of those risks. Every day, hundreds of people ride motorcycles without helmets, thousands of children learn to smoke and 50 Americans are killed by drunk drivers.
However, there are a number of things the country can afford to do to combat bio-terrorism, according to the general.
Government leaders and agencies can do a better job of communicating with each other and with the public, Parker said. That communication should be timely and include exactly what the biological threats are, what is being done to counter those threats, who is at risk and what is an acceptable risk, he said.
More research can be done on how to decontaminate a building quickly to an acceptable level of risk so that people can return to work quickly after a bio-terrorist attack, Parker said.
The government might establish a national test bed for entrepreneurs to bring their innovative methods and devices to detect, combat and decontaminate the effects of biological warfare. Allow those risk-takers to invest the research capital and then select the brightest and best for quick government funding and fielding, Parker said.
Congress could pass legislation requiring the Food and Drug Administration to lessen its requirements for approving new medicines and decontamination solutions that might be effective in fighting biological agents, Parker said.
"Should we allow the FDA to approve something that is only 50-percent effective (in combating a biological agent) when the alternate is death?" Parker asked.
A national medical database might be established to report all injuries and illnesses, without individual names or social security numbers attached, for use as medical intelligence. This would allow appropriate medical resources to be directed where needed the most and alert medical authorities to potential threat areas in a timely manner.
Finally, all levels of government can do a better job of supporting laboratories with training and other resources to detect biological agents in a timely manner. We need to federally support all aspects of the public health care system, Parker said.