KARACHI: Speakers at a conference on Saturday stressed the need for international collaboration to address the risk associated with bioterrorism threats.

“Countries must navigate the delicate balance between fostering scientific progress and ensuring the responsible use of potentially hazardous biological materials. Collaboration on an international scale becomes paramount to address shared concerns and mitigate the risks associated with emerging infectious diseases or bioterrorism threats,” said Dr Huma Baqai.

She was speaking at a two-day conference — Biosafety: navigating biorisk management in Pakistan — that concluded here on Saturday.

The event was organised by the Dr A. Q. Khan Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering and the Pakistan chapter of the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) in collaboration with the Pakistan Biological Safety Association (PBSA) and Pakistan Academy of Sciences at the University of Karachi.

Women urged to join hands for advancement of science in Pakistan; two-day KU conference concludes

Dr Baqai, who is rector of the Millennium Institute of Technology and Entrepreneurs, spoke on ‘Beyond the lab: exploring the socio-political dimensions and ethical challenges in biorisk management’.

She shared that biorisk management extended far beyond the confines of laboratory protocols, delving into the intricate web of socio-political dimensions and ethical challenges.

She said recognising the broader context in which biological research operates is essential for crafting effective strategies that safeguard both public welfare and scientific advancements.

According to her, on the socio-political front, biorisk management intersects with governance, diplomacy and national security.

“Ethical considerations in biorisk management are equally crucial. The dual-use nature of many biological agents demands a heightened awareness of the potential for misuse. Striking a balance between scientific openness and the need for classified information is a delicate ethical challenge. Transparent communication and collaboration between scientists, policy makers, and the public are imperative to navigate these ethical complexities,” she added.

She observed that developing countries often face challenges in implementing robust biorisk management practices due to resource constraints.

She suggested bridging this gap requires a global commitment to capacity-building and equitable distribution of knowledge and resources. She said exploring the socio-political dimensions and ethical challenges in biorisk management unveils a complex tapestry that extends well beyond laboratory walls.

Dr Baqai added that a holistic approach, considering international collaboration, ethical principles and equitable resource distribution was essential to navigate these intricate dimensions and foster a global environment that prioritised both scientific progress and ethical responsibility.

Speaking on the occasion, OWSD-Pakistan president Prof Dr Bina Siddiqui said that it was high time for the women in the country to join hands and work for the development and advancement of science.

She said that such conferences were a step forward to promote and develop a ‘science culture’ among women working in scientific discipline in the country.

Speaking on the topic of ‘Biorisk management in laboratory environment’, Dr Shahida Qureshi, of the Aga Khan University Hospital, said a risk management activity starts from the identification of potential risks in work processes. Conducting risk assessments routinely will minimise risk and help provide a safe work environment for healthcare workers, she added.

The process of conducting risk assessment enables worker to focus on hazard identification at each step or task level and can provide important and essential information to implement for enhancing safety practices, she said, adding that using a risk assessment tool in clinical risk management processes would identify the hazards and the risks involved, improve the lab functionalities, improve the healthcare services at large, and prevent circumstances that could harm both the patient and the healthcare worker from risk of an adverse event.

“Do not wait for an incident to happen to do risk assessment, conduct risk assessment on your work processes before you start a new project…it will enable the worker to achieve a better understanding, and provide the worker with the knowledge to protect people and the surrounding,” she added.

Fifteen scientific and research papers and articles were presented by the scientists, scholars, researchers, and MPhil and PhD students at the two-day conference.

Published in Dawn, December 31st, 2023



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