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EMBL/EMBO Joint Conference 2002

Rainer Sauerborn, Department of Tropical Hygiene and Public Health, University of Heidelberg, Germany

Biography

Rainer Sauerborn, Dr.med, Dr.P.H. worked as a district health officer between 1979 and 1993 in Burkina Faso. After receiving a M.Sc. in Maternal and Child Health from London University, he specialized in pediatrics at Heidelberg University. He then received his public health training at the Harvard School of Public Health. From 1991 through 1995 he worked as institute associate at the Harvard Institute for International Development. In 1996, he become Chair and Director of the Department of Tropical Hygiene and Public Health at Heidelberg University.

Abstract

North-South: The political economy of affliction

Biological and toxin weapons have been used in wars long before their biological functions were understood. After Koch and Pasteur founded the field of microbiology it was soon possible to generate vast amounts of disease causing organisms not just for vaccine but also malignant purposes. With the advent of genetic engineering it has been feasible to create more virulent strains of viruses and antibiotic resistant bacteria that are being feared to constitute potential agents for future warfare or terrorism. Therefore, like any other scientific discipline, microbiology creates new knowledge that can be exploited by well and less well meaning people. The dangers of genetic engineering techniques and their influence (or not) on our ethical thinking and societal well being have been discussed in length during previous symposia(1). There is little ethical discussion necessary when talking about the tremendous human toll of infectious diseases (the drive to act seems imperative) and it is hoped that the previous sessions of this symposium will inform about the political challenges we face in dealing with natural occurring infections. As organizers, we decided to include a session on biological warfare and terrorism to accommodate a debate about the particular political challenges these 'unnatural' events pose and to provide a forum to discuss their future potential threads.

To provide a basis for discussion the Chair will first give a short historical introduction to biological warfare and bioterrorism. The speakers of the session will then give deeper insights into the dual-use problem of modern biological technology (Jan van Aken, Sunshine Project and University of Hamburg) and indicate the challenges for the implementation of international treaties to limit the production and stockpiling of biological weapons (Volker Beck, German Foreign Office, Berlin and John Walker, British Foreign Office, London).

Reference

  1. Christopher, G. W., Cieslak, T. J. Pavlin J. A., and Eitzen E. M., Biological Warfare, a historical perspective. Journal of the American Medical Association, Volume 278, No. 5, p 412-417, 1997.