Sen. Lugar visits Ugandan labs as part of bioterror security trip

A delegation of Pentagon officials led by Senator Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) visited several Uganda laboratories as part of a three-country tour to assess the next generation of American bioterror security concerns.

Some security issues at Uganda’s Ministry of Agriculture, Animals, Industry and Fisheries laboratories include an eroded fence, broken windows, unlocked refrigerators with pathogens such as anthrax inside, and only six technical staff members, the New York Times reports.

A visit to the Uganda Virus Research Institute yielded similar findings. The Marburg and Ebola viruses studied there are kept in a spare room with a regular refrigerator that simply has warning signs but few security measures.

“We need to tighten the security of vulnerable public health laboratories in East Africa,” Andrew C. Weber, assistant to the secretary of defense for nuclear and chemical biological defense programs, said, according to the New York Times. “Preventing terrorist acquisition of dangerous pathogens, the seed material for biological weapons, is a security imperative.”

The Shabab, the rising Islamist insurgent group, has focused security attention on East Africa, especially in light of their claim of responsibility for the deadly suicide bombings in Uganda during the final match of the World Cup, the New York Times reports.

A combination of lax security, thinly spread bureaucracy and improper funding with the warm, wet and equatorial climate of the country has led to multiple concerns about a potential pathogen outbreak.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention runs part of the Uganda Virus Research Institute with state-of-the-art facilities, but the deadliest agents, like Ebola, are still kept in a less updated room meant to handle less fearsome diseases like influenza.