Ukraine soldiers
Ukrainians soldiers pass an improvised path under a destroyed bridge as they evacuate an elderly resident in Irpin, some 25 km northwest of Kyiv, Friday, March 11, 2022. Image Credit: AP

Geneva: The WHO said Friday it has urged Ukraine to destroy any highly dangerous pathogens in its laboratories to avoid the risk of an outbreak as Russian strikes on the country continued.

The World Health Organisation said that its remit included the promotion of biosecurity at laboratories, to prevent the 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 UN health agency said.

Aware of the concern that the recommendation could create, after Ukraine's main civil nuclear power plant was caught up in the Russian conflict, the WHO stressed the broader context of years of collaboration with the Ukrainian authorities to improve lab safety.

"WHO routinely assists member states in improving their public health capacities, including by facilitating improved safety and security of laboratories holding samples of pathogens of public health concern," the organisation said.

"WHO's country office in Ukraine has been working for several years with the Ministry of Health and other partners, including other WHO member states, to support the enhancing of biosafety and biosecurity of labs, as well as the capacity of lab personnel, in particular to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic."

In its general recommendations on laboratory safety, the WHO emphasises a risk-based evaluation, spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters in Geneva via video-link from Ukraine.

"Labs should always look into and assess the situation they are in, to ensure that in the case of a threat, there is a way to dispose safely of pathogens that normally are in all these countries for public health purposes, and to avoid any accidental spill," he said.

"It is a part of us providing public health advice to every country to try to ensure that there is a minimised risk of any harm to population because of any possible accidental leak of pathogens."

Questioned by AFP, the WHO did not provide a list of laboratories in Ukraine, nor indicate their level of biosecurity or explain what pathogens they held.

Jasarevic could not say whether any laboratory affected by these recommendations was in an area actively being bombarded or occupied by Russian troops.