Context: On 26 March 2020, the BWC/BTWC has completed 45 years of its existence. If the verification protocol would have been there, then today we would not have been kept guessing, if the Covid-19 is the biological weapon or has the virus accidentally jumped from the bioresearch facility in the Wuhan province.
About the Biological Weapons Convention
- It is a treaty mechanism that prohibits any use of biological weapons.
- There are 183 countries in the world, which are signatories to this convention.
- Objective: The treaty mechanism restricts any development, acquisition or stockpiling of such weapons.
- The treaty is open for the states to have their own biodefense programmes.
- The treaty does not have any direct correlation with the management pandemics like Covid-19, per se.
- Significance: However, if the world powers would have ensured that this mechanism is followed in true spirit and would have assisted to strengthen this mechanism further, then possibly today, the world would have been somewhat more prepared to handle the Covid-19 crisis.
- The knowledge about the origin of the threat is important.
- It is mainly important from the point of view of understating the possible relapse of the disease and also for political reasons.
- However, from the medical perspective, there is always a need to remain prepared for any form of a disease spread, be it natural or intentional.
- There is no formal verification regime to monitor compliance of this treaty and there is a resistance from major states to have one. Such a mechanism is particularly is found very useful in case of chemical weapons treaty (CWC).
- Here the treaty allows the inspections to be carried out at various chemical factories. However, in the case of BWC, there is no legal mechanism to inspect any biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry.
- Unfortunately, there has been a stiff resistance from the pharmaceutical industry to have any form of inspection mechanism.
Today, what we lag is our capabilities to quickly develop a vaccine/antidote to any disease spread. Unfortunately, for the last 45 years, we looked at the BWC with a very myopic vision and never strengthened it also from the point of view of expanding its scope to address the challenges associated with handling the pandemics.