Lagos calls attention of stakeholders, policy makers to the benefits and threats of synthetic biology, emerging biotechnologies
…As Ninth African Conference on One Health and Biosecurity Commences in Lagos
The Radisson Blu Anchorage, Victoria Island, Lagos, became the epicenter of discussions as the ninth African Conference on One Health and Biosecurity commenced today. The event was inaugurated by the Honourable Commissioner for Health, Professor Akin Abayomi, alongside esteemed partners from the Global Emerging Pathogens Treatment (GET) Consortium.
The annual conference, a testament to a commitment spanning nine years, was born from the exigencies of the 2014 and 2015 Ebola outbreak. Recognizing the interconnectedness of health across African mega-cities, Lagos State has been at the forefront, steering this pivotal gathering to foster awareness and address trends in biosafety and biosecurity across the region.
This year’s focus zeroes in on the intricate realm of synthetic biology—a rapidly evolving field with transformative potential.
In his opening remarks, Professor Abayomi emphasized the dual nature of synthetic biology and other emerging biotechnologies, showcasing both its promising benefits for humanity and its potential for misuse, underscoring the need for heightened awareness and regulation.
In his words: “We are here today, at the ninth African Conference on One Health and Biosecurity which is the Ministry of Health is organizing in partnership with the Global Emerging Pathogens Treatment (GET) Consortium. We have this conference every year. We have had it for the last nine years, triggered by the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and 2015, and we found it necessary to keep the culture of having this annual conference, to bring awareness on the trends around biosafety and biosecurity to the people of Lagos, Nigeria, West Africa and Africa as a whole.
“Lagos State has been driving this annual event because, as a mega city on the continent of Africa, we recognize that it’s our responsibility not only to protect the citizens of this great center of excellence, but also we cannot protect ourselves in isolation, and that if other mega cities around West Africa and Africa fall in prey to biological shocks, it will inevitably affect us also in Lagos.
“So, Lagos is teaming up with the Get Consortium, which is a think tank based in Africa. Its function is to prepare Africans for biological shocks, and this collaboration has been very fruitful for the past nine years.
“The thematic subject matter of this ninth African Conference on One Health and Biosecurity, ‘Maximizing Benefits and Understanding Risks of Synthetic Biology and Other Emerging Biotechnologies in Africa is very interesting especially at this critical time. Synthetic biology is a very complex field. It is a very dramatic and rapidly evolving scientific field where scientists now have the ability to change and alter the genetic code of any living organism and, in fact to have the ability to create new life forms.
“Now, synthetic biology has huge potential for the future of humanity. But like all great inventions, there is also the possibility of using it for great harm in a phenomenon called dual purpose and so today, we are bringing the awareness of what synthetic biology is to Lagos, to Nigeria, and to Africans and everybody around the world that is engaged in biosecurity and creating the opportunity for us as government to understand the subject matter but also to trigger our scientists and our community to be more aware of what the products of synthetic biology are what the benefits could be and the threats synthetic biology can pose to us as African”.
Joining in the discourse, Mrs. Kemi Ogunyemi, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Health, emphasized the significance of this initiative in fortifying safety and security for every citizen. She underscored the imperative role of informed decisions for policy making, advocating for collaborative efforts to safeguard the populace.
Dr. Ayodotun Bobadoye, the Chief Operating Officer of GET Consortium, highlighted the pressing need to confront emerging biosecurity threats, citing recent occurrences of diseases like Lassa fever, COVID-19, and Ebola. The conference aims to explore the prospects of biotechnologies like synthetic biology and gene editing while navigating the associated risks and devising strategic guidelines for Nigeria’s prudent engagement in these domains.
Lagos State, renowned for its proactive measures, remains committed to bolstering its preparedness to counter biosecurity threats, leveraging initiatives like this conference to augment awareness and capacity building.
As the conference unfolds, stakeholders, policymakers, and experts converge to deliberate on shaping a safer, more secure future in the face of ever-evolving biosecurity challenges.