Czech biolab faces uncertain future

The Czech National Security Council is expected to decide the fate of the Biological Defense Center in Techonin in February.

The BDC is considered to be a unique facility in Europe. It is also the only hospital in the Czech Republic whose priority remains protecting the general population as opposed to treating ill patients, according to

Despite the danger of bioterrorism, the future of the BDC is in doubt. The facility is run by the increasingly cash-strapped Czech Army, which cannot justify the expense of running the facility while it must count every penny to ensure it has uniforms, fuel and ammunition.

"The decision has not been made, but in view of the cuts to the Defense Ministry budget, how to keep it running is a very difficult question," Defense Ministry spokesman Jan Pejsek said, reports.

The hospital serves to isolate patients who contract highly contagious diseases and is also to be used in the event of a terrorist attack using biological agents. Czech soldiers returning from foreign missions are required to spend at least 24 hours at the facility.

Techonin also serves as a major research and education center. Until the end of the Cold War, the facility also kept a unique bank of rare viral specimens. In 1992, the Czech Ministry of Defense ordered them to be destroyed. The facilities microbiologists must now by samples from abroad, which is an expensive and time-consuming process.

Czech doctors, laboratory workers, soldiers and first responders use the facility as a training center. They learn to watch for the signs and symptoms of pathogen infection, how to transport patients in body isolation units and how to protect themselves from infection.

"We work with the civilian system. Doctors from infectious disease clinics, emergency medicine specialists, and even medical students come here," Petr Navratil, the Czech Army's chief public health officer, said, reports.

The army has approached other institutions of the Czech government, but has found none willing to absorb a portion of the facility's costs. The search has also spread to the rest of Europe.

"Negotiations have been held with the World Health Organization, the EU Council, the European Commission, the European External Action Service, and bilateral talks have been held with several countries within NATO (e.g. the UK) and even outside it (Serbia)," Pejsek said, reports. "No agreement has been reached, though."