PH’s future biorisk officers trained on biosafety and biosecurity

A new batch of professionals aiming to become Biorisk Officers in the country completed the first semester of the Third Philippine Advanced Biorisk Officers Training (PhABOT 3.0), held recently and organized by the UP Manila Institutional Biosafety Committee (UPM-IBC).

The certification-training program aims to equip the participants with 10 core competencies for three semesters with each semester lasting two weeks. Each competency is based on accepted international biosafety officer standards which trainees are expected to master and be able to practice in the field in their respective regions as certified biorisk officers .

The first semester of the training focused on core competencies 1–3 —Principles of Biorisk Management and Determination, Bioethics, and Biosecurity. A major highlight of this phase was the tabletop exercise where participants were given three situations on risk assessment and mitigation of a communicable disease, a possible scenario of Ebola virus spread in the Philippines. Participants were able to apply the knowledge gained during the training and even became aware of the importance of the role of each department of the government in epidemic control.

UPM National Institutes of Health Deputy Director and IBC Chair Dr. Raul Destura stated that with the number of infectious diseases being documented in the country every year and the Philippines being one of the top tourist destinations, the nature of exposure to biological agents has become a major concern. Thus, the need for awareness and education, especially in the health care field and practice in the midst of this kind of threat. This situation serves as the basis of the PhABOT program.

UP Manila Chancellor Dr. Carmencita Padilla revealed that the NIH is planning to set up a national center for training and practice of the principles of biosafety and biosecurity to serve as home for biosafety officers and practitioners from all over the country. Chancellor Padilla stressed that although laboratory safety is least prioritized in the country, health care providers and personnel should develop a certain level of awareness. She said that with this training program, the members of the health care community are provided a venue to cultivate their biosafety skills.

The 3rd PhABOT program was distinct in that all trainees were graduates of the previous programs who learned from the foreign trainors. Dr. Robert Heckert of the US Department of State Biosecurity Engagement Programme explained that the advanced training program will not only teach students about biosafety but also enable them to implement biosafety practices in their fields and become trainers in future training programs. This will ensure sustainability in terms of training and making available competent biosafety officers in the country.

“The vision of the PhABOT program is to generate biosafety officers who will be fielded not only in the country but also all over Asia to inculcate the culture of safety in research and clinical laboratories and develop training programs for the entire ASEAN region,” Dr. Destura stated.

Half of the 20 trainees were from the Visayas and Mindanao while the rest were from Luzon. Participants came from different backgrounds, such as engineers, doctors, teachers, researchers, and medical technologists. Dr. Destura is optimistic that the program is an opportunity for the participants to pursue a promising career as Certified Biosafety Officers/Trainers. He said that some participants are already assigned as safety officers in their respective institutions while others may be assigned as officers-in-charge.

During the closing ceremony, Dr. Destura noted the good dynamics built within the group. Amidst differing backgrounds, participants were able to share their experiences that facilitated their learning. Based on their evaluation, the participants found the aspect on doing critical and smart risk assessment as the most important skill learned.

The program was supported by the U.S. Department of State Biosecurity Engagement Programme (BEP) and the Philippine Biosafety and Biosecurity Association (PhBBA). Its second semester was held on June 8–19, 2015 in Puerto Princesa, Palawan with the third slated on September 7–18, 2015 in Alabang, Muntinlupa City.

(Written by Charmaine Abing)