U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Public Health Response to Biological and Chemical Weapons: WHO Guidance, Second Edition

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 2001
97 pages
This document discusses the assistance in preparing response plans available to those countries that have signed international treaties to prevent the development, production, and use of biological and chemical weapons.
The development, production, and use of biological and chemical weapons are quite difficult and these weapons have only rarely been used. The magnitude of the possible effects on civilian populations of their use has caused governments to seek to prevent such use and prepare response plans. National assessments of the likelihood of such attacks should be done to determine the extent to which specialist personnel, equipment, and medical stockpiles may be needed. The 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention include provisions for assistance in the event of attack or threat of attack. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is making practical arrangements for providing such assistance if chemical weapons are used. As yet there is no similar organization for biological weapons, but the World Health Organization (WHO) can provide some assistance to Member States. Public health authorities should draw up contingency plans for dealing with a deliberate release of biological or chemical agents intended to harm civilian populations. Preparedness for deliberate releases of biological or chemical agents should be based on standard risk-management principles, starting with an assessment of the relative priority that should be accorded in comparison with other dangers to public health in the country concerned. Preparedness for deliberate releases of agents can be markedly increased in most countries by strengthening the public health infrastructure, such as public health surveillance and response. Managing the consequences of a deliberate release of agents may demand more resources than are available. International assistance is available and should be identified. Countries should actively participate in the multilateral regimes available for international assistance and support through OPCW and State Parties to the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. All Member States should implement the two Conventions fully; propagate in education and training the ethical principles of the Conventions; and support measures that would build implementation. 1 figure, 7 tables, references, annexes