JHMI Office of Communications and Public Affairs

October 17, 2000
MEDIA CONTACT: Gary Stephenson
PHONE: (410) 955-5384
E-MAIL: gstephenson@jhmi.edu


Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies Co-Sponsors Symposium:

Public Health Emergency & National Security Threat

For the second consecutive year, political leaders, public health and medical professionals, research scientists, law enforcement, and national security experts will convene to explore how best to confront the threat of a bioterrorist attack on civilians in the United States. The symposium will serve as a platform to consider actions that the nation and its leaders might take to diminish the risk of bioterrorism and, should it occur, its potentially serious consequences.

David L. Heymann, M.D., executive director, Communicable Diseases, World Health Organization, will give the keynote address at the Second National Symposium on Medical and Public Health Response to Bioterrorism, which is being held on Nov. 28 and 29 at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C. He will address why emerging infections and biological weapons should be a medical and public health concern and are a World Health Organization priority.

Presentations will be made at the symposium on a number of important subjects: Medicine and Public Health: Global Security Challenges; Detecting Epidemics: Current Approaches, Future Possibilities; Capacity of the U.S. Health Care System to Respond to an Epidemic; Containing Epidemics of Contagious Disease; Possible Prevention Strategies; and Setting Strategic Priorities for the Nation. Dinner speaker Ambassador Richard Butler will discuss the importance of international leadership in responding to the threat of biological weapons.

"Last year’s symposium was a wake-up call to the medical and public health community," says D.A. Henderson, M.D., M.P.H., the person credited with leading the World Health Organization’s successful fight to eradicate smallpox from the world, and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies (CCBS). "The outpouring of concern among health professionals, the media and others at the first symposium showed that it had struck a nerve in the American consciousness. Unfortunately, the conditions and threats that created the need for the first symposium remain. This is why we are holding the second symposium."

The symposium is a collaborative effort of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and co-sponsored by 18 other professional organizations and groups.

"Many experts agree that it’s just a matter of time until the United States or another country suffers a significant bioterrorist attack," Henderson says. A release of highly toxic sarin gas in a crowded Tokyo subway in 1995 sent shockwaves throughout the world, "and stockpiles of deadly microorganisms in Russia and Iraq continue to make many throughout the world uneasy," Henderson adds.

Equally troubling is that the country is ill prepared to deal with a bioterrorist attack, according to Henderson. Few hospitals and public health agencies are trained or equipped to respond to the epidemics of smallpox, anthrax, plague or viral hemorrhagic fevers that biological weapons could unleash on unsuspecting populations.

"The Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies was established in 1998 in order to raise awareness and understanding of the threats posed by biological weapons, and to help guide medical, public health and governmental policies for responding to this threat," says Tara O’Toole, M.D., M.P.H., deputy director of CCBS and former assistant secretary of energy for environment, safety and health. "As the power of biotechnology grows, we need to explore how we might create more powerful tools to prevent or treat infectious diseases that biological weapons could cause. And we need to consider how to prevent the subversion of biotechnology toward the creation of more lethal weapons," O’Toole says.

Thomas Inglesby, M.D., assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and senior fellow at the Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies, says, "The national symposium will be a forum for disparate professional communities to present their analyses of the threat posed by biological weapons and to offer their ideas on best paths forward. The most concerning biological weapons have the potential to initiate unprecedented public health and medical emergencies in the civilian communities, and there is a growing understanding that the ramifications of such an emergency have clear implications for national security. The title of the symposium, Public Health Emergency & National Security Threat, reflects this assessment of the biological weapons threat. The convergence of public health, medical and national security communities at this symposium will offer unique opportunities for dialogue and progress."

Highlights of the symposium include expert analysis of the following questions: What are the motivations behind proliferation of biological weapons and how might these weapons change the global balance of power? Why does domestic preparedness planning for bioterrorism remain so difficult? How would epidemics first be recognized in the United States? What is the capacity of the U.S. health care system to respond to large epidemics of infectious disease that might follow the use of biological weapons? What are the key public health, legal and practical issues that arise in planning for the containment of epidemics? Are there any situations when public gatherings should be banned, travel restricted, vaccines or antibiotics mandated, persons or cities quarantined in the pursuit of containing an epidemic? What should be the nation’s strategic priorities in confronting biological weapons?

A complete list of speakers, the agenda and other symposium information can be found at www.hopkins-biodefense.org.


To register for this symposium, as well as to receive press materials, please contact Gary Stephenson at 410-955-5384 or e-mail him at gstephenson@jhmi.edu.

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