Biosafety and biosecurity in the context of the Military Health Forum of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries
The collaboration between Lusophone countries in the field of biosafety and biosecurity is grounded on broader collaboration frameworks that include bilateral and multilateral cooperation, in which the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP) plays a central role. CPLP is an intergovernmental organization with Member States across four continents, where Portuguese is an official language. Comprises nine Member States, including Angola, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, Portugal, Sao Tome and Principe and Timor-Leste. CPLP comprises several relevant networks for the field of biosafety and biosecurity, including the Network of National Institutes of Public Health, the network of Technical Schools of Health, the Portuguese-Speaking Medical Community and the Military Health Forum.
Several public and private institutions in Portugal also have an extensive and permanent collaboration with African Lusophone countries in areas in the context of global health security. In this regard the collaboration between the Portuguese Institute of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and African Lusophone countries is internationally recognized for its historical and current contribution to cooperation in the context of contemporary global health issues, in particular regarding health challenges of travelers and migrants, emerging diseases and environmental and climate changes.
With regard to the collaboration between Portugal and African countries in the area of biosafety and biosecurity in Africa, some milestones can be identified on which the current frameworks of collaboration are based. Of these milestones, it can be highlighted the military technical cooperation established in 1999, between the Military Hospital of Belem, in Lisbon, specialized in infectious diseases and preventive medicine, and the Military Hospital of Maputo, in which an extensive program of re-equipment and training in the laboratory was carried out, covering in particular the field of biosafety.
In the context of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the National Institute of Health, Dr Ricardo Jorge, developed an extensive program to support Guinea Bissau, namely with the National Institute of Public Health of Guinea Bissau, covering capacity building, education and training in the fields of biosafety and biosecurity. The biosafety and biosecurity cooperation between National Institute of Health and African Lusophone Countries was intensified in the last decade evolving to a continuing and permanent basis.
More recently, biosafety and biosecurity gained a status of increasing importance in the context of the Military Health Forum of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries. The Military Health Forum, is a standing structure of the Defence Component of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries. Its composition comprises the Military Health Services High Representatives of the Member States, including also Military Health specialists and technical commissions, intended to promote, on a regular and effective basis, strategic and operational cooperation between the Military Health Services of the Member Countries, in order to achieve common vision and goals.
In the sixth meeting of the Military Health Forum, held in 2019, at Forte de São Julião da Barra in Lisbon, the current working definitions of biosafety and biosecurity were agreed by consensus and constitute a reference for the collaboration projects and activities in this regard. In this context, current projects and activities are aligned with the principles and guidelines of the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction. Specifically, the projects and activities in the field of biosafety and biosecurity are also aligned with the deliverables of the Biological Security Working Group, and since the establishment of the Signature Initiative to Mitigate Biological Threats in Africa (SIMBA) had a significant impact. The six Principles for Strengthening Biological Security in Africa constitute a basis for the ongoing and future collaboration projects and activities.
In 2021, in the seventh meeting of the Military Health Forum, was agreed to develop a multilateral cooperation project, within the scope of advisory and training in biosafety and biosecurity, with a view to the future creation of a network in this field, in the context of military health.
The Exchange Program in Biosafety and Biosecurity in the context of the Military Health Forum started in 2022, and it was conducted in the facilities of the Biological Defence Laboratory in Lisbon. This initiative was conducted as an immersive experience where the participants, selected with previous experience in biosafety, could deep dive into current trends in biosecurity. Since the World Health Organization Biosafety Manual and the Africa CDC 2021-2025 Strategic Plan in the context of Signature Initiative are translated in Portuguese, these documents were presented in detail. The program included the following topics: Introduction to biosafety and biosecurity; contemporary perspective on biological threats; international treaties and international organizations relevant in the field of biosafety and biosecurity; national implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention; preparedness and response to biological emergencies; and normative references for laboratory biosafety and biosecurity. The program also included theoretical and practical training involving personal protective equipment, decontamination, transport and chain of custody of infectious risk samples, exercises in outbreak investigation and collection of biological risk samples and operation in a high containment laboratory.
In 2022, in the eighth meeting of the Military Health Forum, was created the Technical Commission on Biosafety and Biosecurity. Also, in the same meeting, Mozambique proposed to organize the 19th Military Health Conference of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries in Maputo.
The 19th Military Health Conference of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, was held in Maputo, in February 2023. The main topic of the Conference was the Military Health Services in the context of Global Health Security. The program included two side events. A workshop on biosafety and biosecurity and a workshop on the International Health Regulations, held at the headquarters of the Strategic Analysis Center of CPLP in Maputo. The collaboration between Public Health and Military Health Services was central during all the conference and a specific panel during the conference was devoted to biosafety and biosecurity with a specific presentation of the Signature Initiative SIMBA.
In the follow-up of the 19th Military Health Conference of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, the final declaration included a statement reaffirming biosafety and biosecurity as a priority in the context of the collaboration between Member States. As an outcome, this statement was echoed in the ninth meeting of the Military Health Forum, held in March 2023, and the current activities of the Technical Commission on Biosafety and Biosecurity were presented. In the meeting it was approved the creation of a Technical Commission on Global Health Security.
The final report of the ninth Military Health Forum was presented in the 36th meeting of the Permanent Secretariat of Defence of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries and approved for submission in the current political decision process during the 24th meeting of Chiefs-of-Staff, held in Sao Tome and Principe, in April 2023. The inclusion of biosafety and biosecurity as a priority for the collaboration between Lusophone Countries was approved and ratified by the 17th meeting of the National Defence Policy Directors and the 22nd meeting of the Ministers of Defence, both held in Luanda, Angola, in May 2023. Also was approved the inclusion of biological threats scenarios in the context of the FELINO simulation exercise series. The current cycle of the FELINO exercise is scheduled for 2023 with a tabletop exercise conducted in Guinea Bissau, and a full-scale exercise conducted in Portugal in 2024.
As a conclusion, the projects and activities in the context of the collaboration between Lusophone Countries, had a positive impact since the establishment of the Signature Initiative to Mitigate Biological Threats in Africa (SIMBA). The development and the impact of these activities contribute to the success of the Global Partnership, and highlights the importance of multilingualism to the effectiveness and sustainability of programs in the context of biosafety and biosecurity. This approach can be a paradigm for other languages with a worldwide distribution like the Portuguese Language, increasing the collective impact of joint activities within the Signature Initiative. The collaboration with other ongoing projects, where the introduction of Portuguese Language can be a valuable approach, especially in collaboration with intergovernmental organizations, is also an expected outcome, in line with the extensive work conducted in the context of the Global Partnership.