Technical assistance

Exclusive: WHO says it has advised Ukraine to destroy pathogens in health labs to prevent spread of disease

A logo is pictured at the World Health Organization (WHO) building in Geneva, Switzerland February 2, 2020. Picture taken February 2, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

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March 10 (Reuters) – The World Health Organization has advised Ukraine to destroy high-risk pathogens harbored in the country’s public health laboratories to avoid “any potential spills” that would spread the disease among population, the agency told Reuters on Thursday.

Biosecurity experts say the movement of Russian troops into Ukraine and the bombardment of its cities have increased the risk of disease-causing pathogens escaping, should any of these facilities be damaged.

Like many other countries, Ukraine has public health laboratories studying how to mitigate the threats of dangerous diseases affecting both animals and humans, including, more recently, COVID-19. Its laboratories have received support from the United States, the European Union and the WHO.

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In response to questions from Reuters about its work with Ukraine before and during the Russian invasion, the WHO said in an email that it had been working with Ukrainian public health laboratories for several years to promote cleanliness practices. that help prevent “the accidental or deliberate release of pathogens”. .”

“As part of this work, WHO has strongly recommended to the Ukrainian Ministry of Health and other responsible agencies to destroy high-risk pathogens to prevent any potential spills,” said WHO, an agency United Nations.

The WHO did not say when it made the recommendation or provide details about the types of pathogens or toxins harbored in Ukrainian labs. The agency also did not respond to questions about follow-up to its recommendations.

Ukrainian officials in Kyiv and at their embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.

Ukraine’s laboratory capabilities have been at the center of a growing information war since Russia began sending troops to Ukraine two weeks ago.

On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova repeated a longstanding claim that the United States was operating a biological warfare laboratory in Ukraine, a charge that has been repeatedly denied by Washington and Kiev.

Zakharova said documents discovered by Russian forces in Ukraine showed “an emergency attempt to erase evidence of military biological programs” by destroying laboratory samples.

Reuters was unable to independently confirm its information. Read more

In response, a Ukrainian presidential spokesman said, “Ukraine strictly denies any such allegation.” US government spokespersons also strongly denied Zakharova’s accusations, saying Russia could use her claims as a pretext to deploy its own chemical or biological weapons.

The WHO statement makes no reference to biological warfare. The agency said it encouraged all parties to cooperate in the “safe and secure disposal of any pathogens they encounter and to seek technical assistance if necessary.” He offered to help where possible with technical advice and coordination.

The United Nations Security Council will meet on Friday at Russia’s request, diplomats said, to discuss Moscow’s allegations, presented without evidence, about US biological activities in Ukraine.

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Reporting by Jennifer Rigby and Jonathan Landay; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Howard Goller

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