2011 will mark the first “Year of Biosafety in Europe”. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) together with the European Biosafety Association (EBSA), have planned a special session at this year’s annual EBSA conference to bring together laboratory and biosafety experts to discuss the development of effective pan-European biosafety networks.
The provision of safe and secure biological laboratories throughout the EU enhances our capacity to respond to the most challenging biological risks. Even though there is an EU Directive on safety at work with biological agents, the level of biosafety awareness and practices varies greatly between EU Member States. In some countries there is a long tradition of a biosafety culture, often built on the Occupational Health legislation. To date, there are eight national biosafety associations/networks established and more under consideration in other countries.
EBSA announced 2011 “Year of Biosafety in Europe” as an initiative to support the newly established International Federation of Biosafety Associations (IFBA) which declared, in partnership with the Elizabeth R. Griffin Foundation, “2011 the Year of Building International Biosafety Communities”. Biosafety Associations play an important role in the development of biosafety and biosecurity through awareness raising, sharing of resources and the promotion of best practices. This is directly in line with the mandate of EBSA to bring together experts in the fields of biological safety, biosecurity, biotechnology, transport and associated activities, and to be a forum for discussion and knowledge exchange in order to strengthen biosafety in Europe. EBSA has members from over 20 countries in Europe as well as from other regions representing a variety of sectors, e.g. healthcare, academia, emergency response, industry, and regulatory affairs. The annual EBSA meetings cover a wide range of topics within the field, from Biosecurity to Applied Biosafety.
This year at the 14th EBSA Annual Conference (April 13-15th, Portugal) close collaboration between EBSA and ECDC have made it possible to host a special breakout session: “Laboratory Networks and Biosafety Communities - How to make Biosafety pan-European?”. The objective of the session is to bring together ECDC, EBSA, and representatives of successful national associations and delegates from countries less well networked regionally and internationally to discuss how to strengthen biosafety in the EU/EEA Member States as well as the development of a wider European Biosafety Community. Funding from ECDC, with additional support from EBSA, has been made available to MS (through designated National Microbiology Focal Points) to send a delegate to attend the conference. Facilitation of the discussions and output recommendations are under the scientific leadership of Allan Bennett (Health Protection Agency, UK), as part of his coordination of the ECDC funded project “BioRisk Initiative for Capacity building and Knowledge base development (BRICK)”.
Biosafety/Biosecurity are highly relevant concepts to the overall mission of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) to identify, assess and communicate current and emerging threats to human health posed by infectious diseases. Under its operational mandate, ECDC currently supports and fosters collaborations of 16 different disease/area specific pan-European laboratory networks/projects. These activities require safe practices for exchange of biological materials, testing methods, and training of laboratory staff. In addition, ECDC runs a EU-wide programme to train field epidemiologists and public health microbiologists that includes special modules in biosafety practices. There are joint training activities with sectors of the Commission as part of generic preparedness for cross-sectoral investigations. ECDC is working to tailor biosafety related activities for public health microbiology laboratories/experts, which includes access to information resources and training opportunities. The project BRICK will provide an overview of biosafety and biosecurity stakeholders and initiatives with relevance for public health. This will help ECDC develop effective collaborations with WHO, EBSA, and projects funded by the European Commission. Key outputs will include information resources and plans for capacity building activities in EU/EEA Members States and candidate countries.