NATO could use a French-controlled disease monitoring technology as part of a planned system for detecting potential biological strikes against its military assets, the alliance said on Monday.
To date, the "ASTER" equipment has served to warn of spikes in natural infections among French and German armed personnel in Djibouti, enabling the NATO Deployment Health Surveillance Capability to verify related developments and provide warnings.
"ASTER is an important part of NATO's future epidemiological surveillance and alert system," DHSC Commander Hans-Ulrich Holtherm said in a press release. "It is a good example of smart defense applied to public health: rather than try to gather fragmentary data from a few allied nations, NATO is building a single system that will offer a complete overview of the health situation of deployed troops."
"The requirement for developing a real-time epidemiological surveillance and alert system, which is crucial particularly in the event of a biological attack, dates back to the 2002 Prague Summit," Benjamin Queyriaux, deputy head of service for the four-member DHSC group, said in the release.
"A stock-taking of NATO's capabilities for countering [nuclear, biological and chemical] threats shed light on our inability to detect a biological attack for several days," added Queyriaux, who is responsible for creating the alliance alert mechanism.
The project faces hindrances including the need to handle differing national health procedures and data protection requirements; the absence of disclosure authorization terms and uniform formatting for the release of medical details; and the challenge of creating disease threat analyses from provided input. Elimination of the roadblocks could pave the way for wider alliance use of the ASTER apparatus, to which the French Army Health Service owns intellectual property rights.
Canada, Poland and the United States have expressed support for building up the four-member Deployment Health Surveillance Capability, a unit founded two years ago by Paris and Berlin in a bid to eliminate obstacles in monitoring the medical status of NATO personnel, spotting fast-spreading infectious agents and evaluating the success of response efforts. The office is part of the NATO Center of Excellence for Military Medicine in Budapest, Hungary.
A British official is slated within weeks to join the unit, which intends to enter full service next year.