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Health and security concerns raised by the Ebola virus disease outbreak in West Africa pushed global public health towards the top of the international security agenda in 2014. Approximately 20 000 confirmed probable and suspected Ebola cases were reported in West Africa resulting in at least 8000 deaths. Shortcomings in national and international preparedness for managing emerging infectious disease threats were evident, and the response capacities of some national public health systems in West Africa and of international organizations were stretched to their limits. Delays and inefficiencies in response efforts also occurred as states and international bodies (e.g. the World Health Organization, WHO) sought to agree priorities and on how to implement a more coordinated approach. These efforts also underscored the uneven implementation of the WHO’s revised 2005 International Health Regulations.
More broadly, states continued to develop strategies to prevent and remediate the effects of the possible misuse of toxic chemicals and of biological materials; some of these strategies fall within the context of environmental and human health, while others fall within the security and defence spheres. The principal legal instruments against chemical and biological warfare are the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC).
The states parties to the BTWC met twice in 2014. The meetings mainly consisted of an exchange of views and experience, with a focus on cooperation and assistance in the life sciences for peaceful purposes, a review of science and technology developments, and strengthening capacity to assist those potentially threatened with biological weapons. Perhaps the most notable development, particularly with a view towards the Eighth Review Conference that will be held in 2016, was a proposal by Russia that called for a reconsideration of treaty compliance issues.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) continued to verify implementation of the CWC. The OPCW coordinated an international cooperative effort to remove chemical agents from Syria and conducted a fact-finding mission, which concluded that chemical weapons—most likely chlorine—were used again in Syria in 2014. The 19th Conference of the States Parties to the CWC considered the completeness and correctness of Syria’s declarations on, and destruction of, its chemical weapons. The OPCW’s operations in Syria provide a starting point for a wider discussion of the challenges posed to verification in the conflict zones of Iraq, Libya and Syria.