KARACHI - The root cause of all the problems we are facing is intolerance. In fact the whole world is facing the issue of intolerance and bearing its consequences.

“People of the subcontinent have never been intolerant in history; we were the most tolerant people in the world. The people of subcontinent never invaded any region, but they were ruled by the outsiders. We need to fight to make this society tolerant since we can’t produce change in isolation.”

These views were expressed by Professor Dr Muhammad Ajmal Khan, Vice Chancellor (VC) University of Karachi (KU), here at the concluding ceremony of a three-day workshop on Biosafety and Biosecurity: An Advanced Biological Risk Mitigation Training Programme, organised by Dr AQ Khan Institute of Biotechnology & Genetic Engineering (KIBGE) and University of Karachi (KU) in collaboration with Pakistan Biological Safety Association (PBSA) and Health Security Partners (HSP), USA.

“We were made intolerant by certain global powers which don’t want to see us flourishing. Biological weapons are the most dangerous weapons in the history of mankind,” Dr Khan said.

Speaking about the biosafety and biosecurity, Khan who is himself a renowned scientist stated, “We can’t ignore the dangerous consequences we may face if we compromise on biosafety and biosecurity. It is highly imperative for the scientists and the experts to work on combating these issues. The lives of researchers and scientists working in laboratories are in danger if proper biosafety protocols are not followed.”

Professor Dr Abid Azhar, Director General, Dr AQ Khan Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (KIBGE), said, “We are witnessing a new wave of scientific advancement across the globe.

 At the forefront of this new wave are significant breakthroughs in life sciences like gene therapy, stem cell research and the creation of transgenic plants and animals. The race to make new discoveries in this research arena is spurred on by the possibility of improving the quality of life in general and by the immense economic rewards.”

“You may recall that in 2001, anthrax-tainted letters killed five people and traumatized millions in the USA. Some suspicious letters and packages containing white powder sparked emergency alerts across Asia too. Thankfully, this turned out to be a false alarm. However, this made us acutely aware of how much the tiniest of microbes can impact our way of life a couple of years later. SARS brought fear into the hearts of people and also affected the livelihoods of many when businesses and the economy were hit. When the outbreak was finally contained, there was still a lot of concern that SARS would return from wherever it was hiding in nature.”

Dr Azhar further said that it had also been learnt that in today’s global village, infections could not be confined within geographical borders. “There is, therefore, an urgent need for us to work together to ensure that biosafety and biosecurity measures are in place to ensure proper handling of all highly infectious pathogens,” he said, and added, “This is especially critical in the lab environment as both endemic pathogens as well as those which do not naturally exist in our region but are brought into the labs for research and development. Escape of such pathogens into the environment, in particular the latter group, may start new epidemics and become a public health concern.”

I am happy to report that out of thirty participants, 10 were from Jamshoro, Khairpur, Quetta and Tando Jam; 07 from other institutions of Karachi, and 13 from various departments and institutes of the University of Karachi.