Not so long ago, a different virus was capturing the world’s attention.
From 2013-2016, the Ebola epidemic saw death tolls mount rapidly, sparking community unrest, testing government capacity across Guinea and the surrounding region, and mobilizing the international public health community.
Even after a vaccine was approved and distributed, however, another dark threat loomed.
Several incidents throughout the outbreak indicated that vials of potentially contaminated blood from Ebola patients had been stolen, highlighting concerns from law enforcement that the virus could be used for malicious purposes.
As a direct response to the Ebola crisis, INTERPOL launched Project RHINO, aimed at strengthening Guinea’s capacity to effectively control large epidemic outbreaks and adequately ensure public safety through a series of training sessions and tools.
More than 200 Guinean officials across the country’s eight regions have been trained in biosecurity preparedness, coordination and cooperation over the course of the two-year project involving 11 activities.
The INTERPOL project has also established a national pool of 20 biosecurity instructors in Guinea to continue preparing relevant agencies for future disease outbreaks, whether they be natural, accidental or deliberate, with a focus on law enforcement and civil protection.
The final event took place in Conakry on 1-2 December 2020 and charted a path forward for INTERPOL’s Bioterrorism Prevention Unit to continue to engage with the Guinean instructors to ensure continuous development.
“Better equipped to respond”
“Guinea is situated in a region particularly prone to disease outbreaks, making this capacity building partnership in biosecurity and biosafety paramount,” said Adrien Sivignon, Coordinator of INTERPOL’s Bioterrorism Prevention Unit.
“The level of collaboration between our specialized INTERPOL team, public health experts and the Guinean authorities has been outstanding and the national network of instructors will ensure the sustainability of our work over the long term,” added Mr Sivignon.
“As a result of this project, we are better equipped to respond to biological incidents, including the current COVID-19 pandemic, by improving coordination, particularly between public health authorities and law enforcement,” said Ansoumane Camara, Director General of the National Police in Guinea.
Always ready to protect
Some trainings also benefited from the global expertise and best practices of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how law enforcement globally has had to step up its involvement in outbreak response and better coordinate with health authorities,” said Fanny Ewann, a Specialized Officer in INTERPOL’s Bioterrorism Prevention Unit in charge of implementing Project RHINO.
“Few would have predicted that Project RHINO’s biosecurity trainings would prove so necessary so fast but biosecurity – like counter-terrorism – is often about preparing for what you can’t predict,” added Ms Ewann.
“While law enforcement can never exactly predict a crisis, it must always be ready to protect.”