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Student Editorials

Biological weapons

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 01 November 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:0111400
  1. Vivienne Nathanson, head1
  1. 1BMA's professional resources and research group

Advice on what to do cannot come too soon

Most people find the concept of war horrifying. The idea that war can be “just” and have its own set of laws is confusing. There is a huge body of such law: including a ban on the use of biological weapons. Cynics, such as myself, may question whether that law has really stopped the world from using these weapons or whether their intrinsic difficulty and danger has been a more effective deterrent.

At its recent meeting in France the council of the World Medical Association spent several hours discussing biological weapons and bioterrorisim.1 Coming as it did just three weeks after the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York outsiders might have thought this was a response. Far from it. It represented some months of work by the American Medical Association preceded by several years of report writing by the BMA.23 The death of a newspaper worker from inhalational anthrax, and the evidence of infection of his workplace, raises the possibility than an attack has already occurred.

The concepts behind the report are essentially simple and relate closely to observed public health dilemmas worldwide. Put simply, nowhere on earth could we cope effectively with a massive epidemic of a deadly disease. Our ability to cope can be enhanced by various public health measures. But prevention of such an epidemic is far more desirable …

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