By Okeoghene Akubuike
The Minister of State for Environment, Sharon Ikeazor, has called for collaborative efforts by stakeholders in ensuring Nigeria evolves a standard National Biosecurity Policy.
Sharon made the call at the presentation of the Zero Draft National Biosecurity Policy to stakeholders in Abuja.
The minister said that the draft, which was developed by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), was expected to be a rallying point for a holistic and integrated biosecurity system in Nigeria.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the NBMA Act was amended in 2019 and its scope expanded to include emerging aspects of modern biotechnology which include gene editing and biosecurity.
She said that the zero draft national biosecurity policy had been developed with the full recognition of biosecurity as a multi-sectorial discipline.
The minister added that all efforts were geared toward a one- health collaborative approach and an understanding of the responsibilities of various sectors, governments, NGOs, CSOs, communities and individuals.
“To afford true protection, policies, regulations and management strategies must be implemented through a comprehensive approach.
” Fragmented efforts, undertaken without cooperation and coordination among agencies, will not suffice,” she said.
The minister said that recent emerging and deadly viruses had highlighted a global vulnerability to public health emergencies.
She added that it was pivotal to mitigate the risk of biological incidents by boosting preparedness and improving surveillance systems to predict, rapidly identify and respond to the next public health crisis.
Ikeazor said that these systems needed to be sensitive enough to cope with the challenges of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, risk associated with advance in biotechnology and bioterrorism threats.
“We need rules and systems to prevent unauthorised access to labs, loss or misuse of biological materials and other biosecurity threats.
” Hence a national policy on biosecurity is appropriate given biothreats we currently face,” she said.
While presenting the draft, the minister urged the participants to come up with a workable document that would ensure a biothreat free Nigeria that would be presented to the Federal Executive Council for final approval.
The Director-General of NBMA, Dr Rufus Ebegba, in his remarks, acknowledged that there were other agencies handling pockets of issues in biosecurity.
Ebegba, however, gave an assurance that the agency was not going to take over any agency’s mandate but work with all stakeholders to ensure Nigeria has a unified biosecurity policy.
He recalled that in January, a National Biosafety Management Consultative Meeting on Biosecurity was held with all stakeholders.
“We need to be prepared ahead of time for any security threat before it happens and we need your cooperation in developing this document in ensuring that Nigeria has a well strategic biosecurity policy in line with international best practices,” he said.
Mrs Modupe Adeyemo, Programme Officer, African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE), said that the policy when developed would serve as a model for AU member states.
Adeyemo said that the policy would communicate continental agreement on biosecurity as adapted to the national context toward attainment of set goals for society’s benefit.
“It will also highlight and address existing challenges or constraints as well as opportunities for biosecurity and serve as a tool to save the nation,” she said.
She reiterated the commitment of AUDA-NEPAD ABNE to promoting strategic partnership and providing appropriate support that would have a transformative impact on the continent through improved health and well-being.
Participants at the meeting included representatives from the Ministry of Health, Justice, Agricultural and Rural Development, Nigeria Police, Nigeria Custom Service, Nigeria Immigration Service, NSCDC, Interpol and Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service among others. (NAN)