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Kenya vulnerable to biot*******m attack, say experts

Thursday, January 9th, 2020 00:00 | By
Interior CS Fred Matiang’i.
Interior CS Fred Matiang’i. Photo/File
Interior CS Fred Matiang’i. PHOTO/File

Kenya is at risk of chemical and biological weapons attack due to lack of laws and curriculum on bio-safety, experts have warned.

The threat of bioterrorism attack was highlighted this week when Interior Cabinet secretary Fred Matiang’i on Tuesday warned that universities had become major recruitment centres for terrorists.

“There is evidence of recruitment at our universities. Universities have been turned into hubs for money laundering by terror organisations,” said Matiang’i at a meeting with senior editors in Nairobi.

He pointed that the terrorists allied to al Shaabab were targeting engineering and law students for recruitment.

Kenya has been on the receiving end of terror attacks with the recent ones being the Manda military base one in Lamu manned by Kenyan and US soldiers which left three people dead.

On Tuesday, suspected al Shabaab militants executed four boys and injured three others in a dawn attack in Dadaab sub-county, Garissa.

The flagging of local universities as possible terrorist recruitment centres, means the country is vulnerable to attacks from unsecured biological agents stored in health facilities and medical research laboratories.

High risk chemicals

On June 24, last year, a joint delegation of the European Commission and the International Science and Technology Centre (ISTC) visited Nairobi to discuss the growing threat posed by high-risk chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) materials and the possible membership of Kenya to the ISTC.

The meetings provided an opportunity to discuss security and nuclear safety issues, in the context of Kenya’s plans to embark on nuclear energy development, as part of its future energy mix.

The EC-ISTC mission pointed out that Kenya plays a key role in the region, because the CBRN regional secretariat is based in Nairobi, hosted by the Radiation Protection Board.

The delegation expressed the hope that Kenya would continue to take a leading role in the region by joining the ISTC and working with neighbouring countries to strengthen security. 

“It is only through regional and international co-operation that security risks, including CBRN threats, can be reduced and managed,” an EU report says.

Kenya’s Health Cabinet secretary Sicily Kariuki and her Agriculture counterpart Mwangi Kiunjuri said there were gaps in bio-security and bio-safety curriculum based on international best practices.

“Globally, there are increased biorisks resulting from increased disease outbreaks, emerging diseases and bioterrorism,” the CSs said in a joint statement attached to the Kenya Laboratory Biorisk Management Curriculum, 2019.

A Biosecurity Survey in Kenya, November 2014 to February 2015 showed that Kenyan laboratory facilities contain biological agents of biosecurity concern.

The restrictions for these agents were found to be limited for several of the facilities, in that many laboratory facilities and storage units were open for access by either students or staff who had no need of access to the laboratory.

The survey showed a great deal of confusion in the terms biosecurity and biosafety and a generally limited biosecurity awareness among laboratory personnel.

The police in May 2016 announced that they had foiled a “large-scale” biological attack using anthrax by a terror group with links to the Islamic State (IS).

Mohammed Abdi Ali, a medical intern at a Kenyan hospital, was said to have been in charge of a “terror network... planning large-scale attacks akin to the Westgate Mall attack” in which 67 people were killed in 2013 in Nairobi.

The statement said  Ali’s network included medical experts who could help organise a biological attack using anthrax.

To address the challenge, the CSs said the curriculum has been developed, which with proper utilisation, all sectors will protect personnel from potentially harmful pathogens as well as secure infectious agents against accidental release or deliberate misuse to harm people, animals, plants, or the environment.

The curriculum is designed to strategically and professionally address the gaps, identified including bio-security to generate a harmonised and integrated curriculum based on international best practices.

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