In the News: ORBIT Forum

The Trilateral (US-Romania-Moldova) Civilian-Military Forum on Outbreak Response and Bioterrorism Investigation (ORBIT Forum), was held in Chisinau, in the Republic of Moldova, October 19-21, 2010. It was organized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response) and the US Department of Defense (US European Command, Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine, and the U.S. Public Health Command – Europe). The ORBIT Forum included awareness training and a tabletop exercise designed to evaluate policies for the prevention, deterrence, and response to bioterrorism incidents borne out of the convergence of criminal and terrorist networks. The goals of this event were to: i) promote interagency cooperation (in particular, public health-law enforcement, but also civilian-military cooperation), coordination and synchronization for preparing, detecting, and responding to infectious disease outbreaks, whether natural, accidental, or deliberate in nature; ii) establish sustainable laboratory partnerships to enhance training and medical surveillance initiatives among the three countries; and to iii) strengthen the core capacities required by the WHO International Health Regulations and existing national measures consistent with obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention and UN Security Council Resolution 1540 to deter, prevent, and respond to biological incidents or threats.

The ORBIT Forum was attended by about 100 participants including civilian and military public health personnel (laboratory and preventive medicine staff, epidemiologists, emergency response planners, administrators), law enforcement, intelligence, military, and affiliated professionals (other first responders, public communication officers, foreign affairs officers), and representatives of non-governmental organizations from the U.S., Romania, and Moldova. Also in attendance were representatives of inter-governmental organizations (WHO, European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Interpol, NATO, UN Office of Disarmament Affairs, and the Biological Weapons Convention Implementation Support Unit). Opening remarks were given by the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Moldova, His Excellency Asif Chaudhry.

Marina Voronova-Abrams, the Program Associate for Global Green USA’s Security and Sustainability Program in Washington D.C., stressed the importance of such partnerships. “The international community has realized over the years that public health and security are very much connected. Any country would need the same resources to cope with either a terrorist attack involving biological agents or with a naturally-occurring disease outbreak. Therefore, both the public health and security communities need to learn to work together at national, regional, and international levels. Current international frameworks provide a wide variety of expertise, financial assistance, and opportunities for specialists to improve their knowledge in the field. For the U.S. Government, this is one more step forward in implementing the National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats and promoting global health security.”

The Trilateral (US-Romania-Moldova) Civilian-Military Forum on Outbreak Response and Bioterrorism Investigation follows on the heels of the Southern Caucasus Workshop on Public Health, Security, and Law Enforcement Partnership in Bio-Incident Pre-Planning and Response and the associated Southern Caucasus BioShield 2010 Tabletop Exercise held in Tbilisi, Georgia, 11-12 May 2010 (workshop summary).

For participants’ feedback, please see the interviews with BG Mihai Marius Muresan, MD, PhD, Surgeon General, Romania, and COL Hans Holtherm, MD, Head of Deployment Health Surveillance, Bundeswehr Medical Office, NATO ACO Medical Directorate.

The After-Action Report is now available.