Bio-Terrorism in India: Are we capable of handling it?

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Mysore, March 9: The dean of the Mysuru Medical College and Research Institute, Krishnamurthy at a recent event made an interesting and yet startling point when he said that India is not prepared to face the threat of bio-terrorism.

He also pointed out that there is an urgent need to train doctors, nurses and para medical staff to face an eventuality resulting out of bio-terrorism. Terrorists tend to use biological agents as they are difficult to detect and agents such as the smallpox virus can spread from person to person, he also noted.

Is India capable of bio-terrorism?

How serious is the threat of bio-terrorism in India?

There are enough and more reports both nationally and internationally to show that India faces the risk of bio-terrorism. A recent document by Wikileaks had also suggested that India faces a potential risk of bio-terrorism.

The kind of agents that can pose a major security risk in bio-terrorism are anthrax, small pox, Viral Hemorrhagic fever, Rabbit fever or Bubonic plague. The use of Hantavirus, SARS, H1N1, HIV/AIDS and also Nipah Virus can be produced easily and could be used as a weapon of mass destruction.

India on the hit list of bio-terror since 2006:

Terrorist groups have been careful while using bio-terrorism on India. Every major group including the Lashkar-e-Tayiba are capable of unleashing a bio-terror attack on India. However they consider it to be their trump card and hence would wait for an opportune time to use it.
It has been stated clearly in Intelligence Bureau reports that the threat of bio-terror is real and not academic.

Intelligence reports also state that terror groups could unleash bio-terror in a big way in the years to come and are fully equipped for the same. Nuclear terrorism can be considered to be fiction, but that is not the case of bio-terrorism, the IB report further states.

Discussing the possibility of using bio-terror:

According to the Intelligence Bureau there has been a lot of chatter that has been picked up where terror groups are seen discussing bio-terror. Groups such as the Al-Qaeda and the Lashkar have been discussing this method of launching attacks.

They are getting in touch with scientists from across the world to help them launch such attacks. While there is a lab dedicated to facilitating bio-terror attacks in Khandahar, there has not been concrete evidence of an attack being launched as yet. However the agencies say that while terrorists may use it sparingly India would need to do a lot to stay prepared.

Was the attack of 1996 bio-terror?

In the year 1996 there was a major outbreak of dengue hemorrhagic fever in India. After several hiccups at first, the situation was brought under control.

However till date the investigations have not found how this virus broke into India. The issue was discussed for some time and then forgotten. Successive governments have promised action, but is yet to come up with a disease surveillance network.

There have been several proposals that have been made to set up this network which would help track easily the entry of virus into India. However till date no concrete measures have been taken. Moreover there is also an urgent need to train hospital staff across the country to react in the case of such a break out.

Bio Defence activities in India:

According to a report on Bio Weapons in India prepared by the National Disaster Management Authority there are 400 trained personnel to handle bio-terrorism in India.

It is the DRDO which is heading the Research and Development on bio-defence in India. Detection, diagnosis and decontamination are the primary fields that are under focus. Investigation into medical management during a biological attack is also a part of the agenda.

During investigations it was found that Anthrax was a serious threat and India is considered an endemic region for animal anthrax. In the year 2012 there were 6 reported deaths due to anthrax.

The fight against bio-terror is an ongoing process and steps will have be taken from time to time, the IB says. The IB would provide the intercepts and each case of a virus scare must be treated with utmost seriousness.

Moreover in the case of a virus outbreak while the first priority would be to control the problem it is equally important to investigate the source, the IB also points out.

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