The World Health Organization (WHO) advised Ukraine to destroy high-threat pathogens housed in the country’s public health laboratories to prevent “any potential spills” that would spread disease among the population, Reuters reported.
Biosecurity experts say Russia’s movement of troops into Ukraine and bombardment of its cities have raised the risk of an escape of disease-causing pathogens, should any of those facilities be damaged.
Like many other countries, Ukraine has public health laboratories researching how to mitigate the threats of dangerous diseases affecting animals and humans including, most recently, COVID-19.
Its labs have received support from the United States, the European Union and the WHO.
WHO said in an email that it has collaborated with Ukrainian public health labs for several years to promote security practices that help prevent “accidental or deliberate release of pathogens”.
“As part of this work, WHO has strongly recommended to the Ministry of Health in Ukraine and other responsible bodies to destroy high-threat pathogens to prevent any potential spills,” the WHO, a United Nations agency, said.
Ukraine’s laboratory capabilities are at the centre of a growing information war since Russia began moving troops into Ukraine two weeks ago.
On Wednesday, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova repeated a longstanding claim that the United States operates a biowarfare lab in Ukraine, an accusation that has been repeatedly denied by Washington and Kyiv.
Zakharova said that documents unearthed by Russian forces in Ukraine showed “an emergency attempt to erase evidence of military biological programmes” by destroying lab samples.
In response, a Ukrainian presidential spokesperson said: “Ukraine strictly denies any such allegation.”
US government spokespeople also strongly denied Zakharova’s accusations, saying that Russia may use its claims as a pretext to deploy its own chemical or biological weapons.