PR No. 217 Efforts for Developing National Biosecurity Plan urged at Regional Workshop in Islamabad Islamabad: April 26, 2016

The Federal Secretary, Ministry of Climate Change, Government of Pakistan, Mr. Syed Abu Ahmad Akif, has called for efforts to develop a National Biosecurity Plan to address concerns regarding Pakistan’s preparedness for bio-threats in various sectors, including environment, agriculture, and health. He was addressing the participants of the Regional Workshop on Biosafety and Biosecurity in Life Sciences Research, being jointly organized in Islamabad by the Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (COMSATS), Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), and Pakistan Academy of Sciences (PAS). Mr. Akif was representing the Federal Minister for Climate Change, Mr. Zahid Hamid. He pledged his Ministry’s support for any initiative with regard to the afore-mentioned national plan. As the Chairperson of National Biosafety Committee (NBC) of Pakistan, he especially appreciated the theme of the event.

Speaking to the 170 participants of the inaugural session, the Secretary General PAS, Dr. Zabta Khan Shinwari, shared the significance of the event in relation to the National DNA Day (25th April) that commemorates completion of the Human Genome Project in April 2003, and the discovery of DNA’s double helix in 1953. In view of the emerging technologies in life sciences, such as genetic modification in plants and animals (GMOs) and more recently human gene editing, he called for strong ethical guidelines that may check and monitor radical trends in life sciences research challenging the moral fabric of society.

The ISESCO Representative based in UAE, Dr. AbdulAzeez Hameed Ali, conveyed the greetings of Director General ISESCO, Dr. Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri and thanked COMSATS and PAS for collaborating with ISESCO for co-organizing the event. He noted that ISESCO has been working for over 30 years for the promotion of science by holding workshops and seminars within and outside the Islamic World.

In his address, the Executive Director COMSATS, Dr. I.E. Qureshi, highlighted the theme of the event and relevant issues in the developed and the developing world. Dr. Qureshi made a special mention of the upcoming 8th Review Conference of Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) that addresses weapons of mass destruction of biological and toxic nature. He noted with concern some missing aspects in the BWC, such as non-universality, especially in Middle East, and verification regime. Referring to some trends and technologies in life sciences, such as CRISPR being used to tailor the human genetic code, he considered it important to have relevant legal obligations for scientists and research organizations working in sensitive areas of life sciences. He especially hoped that Pakistan’s Ministry of Climate Change would benefit from the technical deliberations and recommendations of this regional workshop.

The three-day regional workshop has participation from over 40 R&D organizations, universities, and government institutions from 20 cities of Pakistan, as well as speakers from Bahrain, Iran, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Nigeria and USA. The workshop will touch upon the three major themes: Biosafety and lab safe handling; Biosecurity; and Bioethics, in its 7 technical sessions.