Wednesday, April 9, 2014

France: Setting the Gold Standard in Countering Bio-Terrorism



In 2005, French Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin called for international cooperation against bioterrorism at an Interpol meeting in Lyon. He promoted the idea of creating a joint database and a rapid alert network for theft, diversion and illegal transfer of biological agents, as well as a list of designated groups and individuals of concern. De Villepin also proposed the creation of an international center for monitoring bio terrorist threats. Mr. de Villepin went on to plead for a better coordination of Biotox style (the French government response to the deliberate introduction of the smallpox virus) plans at European level. "Why not to imagine for example a European reaction plan against a biological attack?"he asked. Furthermore, he added, the EU should initiative an update on reserves of vaccines so that each country knows the nearest country to turn to in case of emergency." See: http://cordis.europa.eu/news/rcn/23453_en.html

For over a decade the French government has established itself as the gold standard when it comes to bio-security, bio-safety and certainly countering, on the ground threats from would be bio-terrorists. In 2003, French authorities discovered ricin like substances in Gare du Lyon train station. Subsequently nine suspects of North African descent, who had trained in the Pankisi Gorge and were associated with AQ were arrested. While this is just one high profile example of a possible bio-threat, the French have developed outstanding and what I would describe as comprehensive capabilities to counter the threat of bio-terrorism. This depth of expertise offers a lot from which Member States within the EU could well benefit. France's Biotox-Piratox under their Vigipirate model is and has been a clear forerunner in bio-security and bio-safety for the analysis of attacks with deliberate disease. The French model, according to a report by European Hospital, published in 2013 includes the following structure: See: http://www.european-hospital.com/en/article/11331-French_bio-terrorism_network_of_labs.html

"Born in the USA out of the anthrax scare that followed the 9/11 attacks, the formation of a network of laboratories kept on 24/7 alert against potential bio-terrorism was introduced in France at the end of 2001.


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Initially interested only in the search for Bacillus anthracis, (the causative agent of anthrax), the structure was enlarged in 2004 with the mission to carry out the analysis of all chemical and biological agents that could present a terrorist threat.
Under the jurisdiction of the Interior Minister for National Defence and Safety, a network of laboratories known as Biotox-Piratox has evolved, within the context of the national security plan ‘Vigipirate’.
Since 2011, the network has extended its missions to include the discovery of all substances of suspect nature in the environment, in drinking water, and/or the food chain, that could have been placed by a deliberate malevolent act, or by negligence. The aim of the network is to act efficiently and promptly in collaboration with the health services, police and army to eliminate the threat and protect the general public."
Structure of Biotox-Piratox
According to the European Hospital report, "Dr. Binder, President of the Network's Scientific Board and Security Defence Advisor for INSERM, will present the work of the network at the Journées Internationales de Internationales de Biologie (JIB) in Paris at the beginning of November.The network has been set up to work in a way that is optimal when confronted with a potential biological or chemical risk to public health. The network is organised over three levels. Level one is known as our ‘sentinel laboratories’. These countrywide laboratories must be able to recognize a suspicious situation, package or sample, alert the authorities, and recognize which of the 100 or so, level 2 laboratories is best adapted to deal with the situation.

‘Each geographical defence-zone in France has at least one reference laboratory for 'human health' and another reference laboratory for chemo-toxicological analysis of the environment. These include 10 water board and 10 military labs. All the level two laboratories were selected from the results of an inquiry carried out by the scientific board in 2005. In addition to their scientific excellence, their specialty, geographical localisation, equipment and ability to maintain a permanent 24-hour cover, were all taken into consideration.
‘For the most part the human-health labs are connected to a public hospital in each zone. While the toxicology environmental labs belong to different bodies including among others the police, gendarmerie and the national agency for food safety. A full list of level two laboratories is available from the Biotox-Piratox council.
‘The level three laboratories are not necessarily mobilized as soon as the level two labs, as they are the highly specialized members of the network. Their role is to confirm the nature of a suspected pathogen and therefore have to be able to carry out rapid identification techniques such as rt-PCR under security conditions of at least category three. They also must have trained personnel for dealing with the treatment and containment of a potential infection of the pathogen.Responsibility for communication with the public for allaying fears and ad hoc communication rests with the governmental services.‘Looking at the archives, since its existence in 2003 the network has dealt with 1,300 alerts. In 2003, 207 separate incidences were recorded, but since 2010 this has reduced to a steady 150 a year. Due in part to better understanding of what we are looking at and the organisation of the network, the number of analyses for suspected agents for bio-terrorism has fallen from 77.8% to fewer than 2% in 2011." 
For an in depth report on French bio-preparedness planning I highly recommend a look at Eurosurveillance, Volume 17, Issue 45, 08 November 2012 "Assessment of the Bio-Preparedness and of the Training of the French Hospital Laboratories in the Even of Biological Threat (http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=20312) An additional reference by Dr. Binder is also recommended, see: https://pro.anses.fr/euroreference/numero7/index.htm
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Jill Bellamy is an internationally recognized expert on biological warfare and defence. She has formerly advised NATO and for the past seventeen years has represented a number of bio-pharmaceutical and government clients working on procurement strategy between NATO MS and Washington DC. Her articles have appeared in the National Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Sunday Times of London, Le Temps, Le Monde and the Jerusalem Post among other publications. She is a CBRN SME with the U.S. Department of Defence, Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defence Information Analysis Center and CEO of Warfare Technology Analytics, a private consultancy based in the Netherlands. She is an Associate Fellow with the Henry Jackson Society, UK.






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