The World Health Organization has urged Ukraine to destroy disease-causing pathogens in its public health labs to avoid “potential spills” amid the Russian invasion.
The Kremlin’s deadly offensive has raised the risk of an escape of dangerous diseases if any of the facilities are damaged in the bombings, Reuters reported, citing biosecurity experts.
Some of Ukraine’s public health labs — which have received support from the US, the European Union and the WHO — research how to mitigate the threats of deadly viruses, including COVID-19, according to the news agency.
The WHO told Reuters it has collaborated with Ukrainian 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 United Nations agency told the outlet in an email.
The agency would not say when it had made the recommendation and did not provide specifics about what kinds of pathogens or toxins are housed in Ukraine’s labs. It also did not answer questions about whether its recommendations were followed.
Ukrainian officials in Kyiv and at their embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment by Reuters.
On Wednesday, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman repeated the claim that the US operates a biowarfare lab in Ukraine, an accusation that has been repeatedly denied by Washington and Kyiv.
The spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said that documents found by Russian troops in Ukraine showed “an emergency attempt to erase evidence of military biological programs” by destroying lab samples.
Ukrainian presidential spokesperson said in response that Kyiv “strictly denies any such allegation.”
The US government also has strongly denied Zakharova’s accusations, saying that Russia may use its claims as a pretext to deploy its own chemical or biological weapons.
The WHO, whose statement made no reference to biowarfare, said it encourages all parties to cooperate in “the safe and secure disposal of any pathogens they come across, and to reach out for technical assistance as needed.”
The UN Security Council will convene Friday at Russia’s request to discuss Moscow’s claims, presented without evidence, of US biological activities in Ukraine, Reuters reported, citing diplomatic sources.