What's needed for the next WHO Biosafety Handbook

April 19, 2018

In this Policy Forum, Kazunobu Kojima et al. highlight key issues that should be addressed through the next revision of the World Health Organization (WHO) Laboratory Biosafety Manual (LBM). First released in 1983, the LBM provides a valuable framework, which nations rely greatly on, for safely studying pathogenic microorganisms, such as Ebola virus. Yet the authors note that previous LBMs have largely a focused on engineering and building expensive labs with potential to handle heavy-duty pathogens; this checklist-like approach is unsustainable, the authors say, particularly in less developed countries that lack resources to maintain the facilities. Furthermore, a review of infections contracted in laboratories reveals that many are caused by human factors (e.g., improper personal protective equipment), a point that has been underemphasized in previous LBM versions. Therefore, better workforce development and training is just as important as infrastructure, the authors emphasize. They recommend that the upcoming fourth revision of the WHO LBM adopts a risk- and evidence-based approach to biosafety that ensures that laboratory facilities, safety equipment, and work practices are locally relevant, proportionate, and sustainable. The new LBM could include "core requirements," a combination of commonly known biosafety elements to be implemented and used, constituting a minimum requirement for safe work during the majority of laboratory procedures, the authors say.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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