Ways of Killing

By Zachary Block '99 / May / June 2002
June 30th, 2007
Before it became frightening to open the mail, Margaret Hamburg says she was often called a crackpot when she issued warnings of future biological attacks. Then came anthrax. Now, she says, everyone knows that bioterror is "not just the stuff of science fiction and Tom Clancy novels."

Hamburg, a medical doctor and the vice president for biological weapons programs at the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a Washington-based organization cofounded by Ted Turner '60 and former U.S. senator Sam Nunn, was on campus April 11 to deliver a speech titled "Bioterrorism: Ready or Not." The talk, a Dr. and Mrs. Frederick W. Barnes Jr. Lecture, was presented by the Brown Medical School Public Health Program.

Hamburg says that preparing the country for future biological attacks will involve various national and international government and law-enforcement agencies as well as the entire public-health sector. Together these organizations must address needs so widespread that just hearing Hamburg list them is a dizzying and alarming experience.

Among the challenges she identified were the need to increase the capacity to detect, track, and treat bioterrorism outbreaks, including new training for public-health workers and law-enforcement personnel; expansion of already over- burdened hospitals; the stockpiling of vaccines; the implementation of plans for distributing those vaccines; and a plan for the pharmaceutical industry to increase vaccine stocks on demand.

Hamburg also called for better research into how biological agents kill and what kinds of decontamination and protection work best. She argued that we must enhance U.S. intelligence capacities, help combat infectious-disease outbreaks worldwide, address the root causes of terrorism, find productive employment for scientists from the former Soviet Union's biological weapons program, and ensure that modern medical tools are not creating"new, worse bugs."

"It may be impossible to prevent bioterror attacks from occurring," Hamburg argued, "but planning can help prevent deaths."

What do you think?
See what other readers are saying about this article and add your voice. 
Related Issue
May / June 2002