Needed: A Biosafety Level-3 (BSL-3) Laboratory in Gilgit Baltistan

Aalia Parveen

In populous countries like Pakistan, where healthcare facilities are insufficient, controlling infectious diseases is a huge challenge. We do not have biosafety laboratories to tackle epidemics and pandemics. With corona virus (COVID-19) spreading in Gilgit Baltistan, the biggest concern is the lack of research expertise and absence of a BSL-3 laboratory in the entire region. The handling of samples and diagnosis could have been carried out in GB if had an already established facility. This region has always been praised for the highest literacy and general common sense, yet the provincial government has failed to spend money on human health and research. Our leaders need to invest wisely in projects which will safeguard our health, education, economy and general wellbeing. Our population has brilliant human resources and managing these plans should not be a problem.

For general audiences, the BSL-3 is a biosafety level-3 laboratory that deals with lethal pathogens (like Tuberculosis) with aerosol transmission, which means the agent can be spread through air. The BSL-3 laboratories facilitate diagnostics, clinical research, treatment and production. Microorganism and viruses are extremely smart. It is so fascinating to see how they manipulate their genetic code to adapt, survive and become more resistant and/or virulent. BSL-3 laboratory is the necessity for all times because we have to keep in mind that pandemics have happened in the past and will continue to happen in future. We need better preparedness to face these issues. WHO and the world community is working to find a cure, we could have done our bit too if we had the resources.

In Gilgit, we have a public university, KIU with a biological sciences department and DHQ hospital and we see a lack of coordination. The health department should make sure that there is strong collaboration between these two institutions on finding cure for diseases that are prevalent in our region.

Microorganisms and viruses do not discriminate between race, religion, financial status or nationality, they just kill. Therefore, the policy makers, the health department, politicians, scientists, doctors, environmentalists, industries and civil society of entire Gilgit Baltistan have to come together and work on this matter.

We can begin with a BSL-1/2 laboratory for starters, and these can be upgraded to BSL-3 eventually based on the organisms they work with and the quality of research produced. As a biologist, I understand it will be a long journey if we are committing towards building biosafety laboratories of high standards and training staff and paramedics, but we have to start at some point. The government of the GB has the power to take safety measures, it is now or never. Our policy makers need to be wary of the demands of the world we live in and prepare accordingly, they have our support in full.

The contributor is a Fulbright alumna and holds a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology from the University of Arkansas, USA (Fall 2019).

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