WHO Confirms Major Fear About Biolab with Deadly Pathogens in War Zone
The World Health Organization warned of a “huge biological risk” Tuesday after the National Public Health Laboratory in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum was taken control of by paramilitary forces.
The Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group fighting with Sudan’s military for control of the African nation, now has access to “samples of diseases and other biological material,” CNN reported, citing an unnamed “high-ranking medical source.”
Journalists reported hearing gunfire and fighter jets a mere 12 hours after the signing of a 72-hour truce between the two factions, each of which blamed the other for violating the ceasefire.
The RSF, however, told CNN that it had “no control over the laboratory.”
The WHO also said it could no longer access the lab.
“[T]rained laboratory technicians no longer have access to the laboratory,” the organization told CNN.
Nima Saeed Abid, a WHO representative in Sudan, told the outlet that its loss of access to the facility was “extremely dangerous because we have polio isolates in the lab, we have measles isolates in the lab, we have cholera isolates in the lab.”
According to Abid, the lab no longer had power, making it “not possible to properly manage the biological materials” stored there.
He refused to state which side of the conflict had taken control of the lab, Reuters reported.
“This is the main concern: no accessibility to the lab technicians to go to the lab and safely contain the biological material and substances available,” he told reporters on a video conference.
The “high-ranking medical source” said the situation amounted to a “real biological danger” and called for “urgent and rapid intervention” to secure the facility and restore power.
A professor in London, however, downplayed the risk.
“It could create a risky situation, but it’s a regular health lab, not a high containment facility,” Fillipa Lentzos, Associate Professor in Science and International Security at King’s College London, told the BBC.
“The agents which are in the lab are all diseases which are endemic in the region anyway, so they wouldn’t really be classified as high risk,” she said.
Many countries have evacuated their citizens from the strife-torn nation. The Biden administration has pulled out U.S. embassy personnel, but has left American civilians largely on their own.
Fighting in the past two weeks had led to at least 459 deaths and an additional 4,072 injuries, according to the WHO, although Abid said those numbers underestimated the actual figures.
The WHO has seen 14 health facilities attacked in the most recent round of fighting, Reuters said.
The BBC, citing Sudan’s Federal Ministry of Health, said that over a third of the health facilities in the capital were “non-functional,” and another quarter were “unresponsive.”
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