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DTRA News

News | Feb. 23, 2021

DTRA partner nations in South East Asia Enabled Countries to Rapidly Respond to Outbreaks

DTRA partner nations in South East Asia Enabled Countries to Rapidly Respond to Outbreaks
By DTRA Public Affairs

FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) worked with Indonesia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam to build and develop biological security, safety and surveillance capabilities as part of the Agency’s long term history of building partnerships with countries around the globe.

As a result of these strong and enduring relationships with partner nations, DTRA was able to assist their South East Asian partners to identify the first COVID-19 case outside of China at the onset of the pandemic and successfully detected the novel United Kingdom COVID-19 variant in Thailand.

DTRA has provided biological, security, safety and surveillance support to the Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI), the country’s Armed Forces, since 2018. The collaboration illustrates the importance of human resource capacity development as the most effective and sustainable means to promote biosafety and biosecurity in Indonesia.

Throughout the last year, DTRA trained over 100 Indonesian personnel from various TNI hospitals across the island of Java in biosafety and biosecurity, molecular diagnostic processes, bio risk management and epidemiology through a combination of hands-on instruction and hybrid virtual training. The DTRA-TNI partnership reached a significant milestone in December, 2020, when DTRA completed the installation of real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machines and biosafety cabinets at three TNI hospitals in Jakarta, Bandung, and Pontianak. The equipment and associated training was leveraged by DTRA’s Indonesian partners to help combat the COVID-19 outbreak in country. The PCR machines increased the Indonesian military’s capacity to diagnose, monitor, and prevent Especially Dangerous Pathogens (EDPs), including SARS-CoV2, the causative agent of COVID-19.

Support to Laos

DTRA has actively partnered with Laos since 2013 and provided biosafety and biosecurity workshops throughout the last year. In July, 2020, DTRA sponsored a training workshop to improve Avian Influenza surveillance and risk communication in Luang Prabang Province. Avian Influenza is endemic to the region, and active surveillance is essential to understanding its prevalence and detection of active cases. The workshop strengthened connections between the Ministry of Health and the Department of Forestry and Agriculture, improving the overall bio surveillance capabilities in Laos.

In November 2020, DTRA and its Laotian partners, including the National Laboratory Biosafety Authority, completed their efforts to develop a national EDP inventory. The establishment of a national inventory of EDPs was a significant step toward improving Laos’ biosecurity practices and helped reduce the potential for accidental release or theft of dangerous pathogens.

In December 2020, alumni of DTRA’s Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP) deployed to Bakeo and Louangnamtha provinces to respond to two Chinese nationals illegally entering Laos, both of whom had COVID-19. These FETP alumni supported surveillance and specimen collection and the team found no other cases of COVID-19 and no evidence of community transmission.

Support to Thailand

DTRA began working with Thailand in 2014. Since then, DTRA and Thailand established a training program for the Pathogen Asset Control System (PACS) at various Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) sites. DTRA collaborated with Thailand to improve the country’s disease detection, reporting, and communication efforts, to include the Electronic Infectious Disease Surveillence System (EIDSS) throughout the MoPH laboratory system. During the course of this partnership, Thailand became a regional leader in biosecurity, biosafety, and disease surveillance.

Earlier this year, the Thai Red Cross Emerging Infectious Diseases Health Science Centre (TRC-EID-HSC) thanked DTRA for providing technical assistance that increased diagnostic capabilities within Thailand during the ongoing pandemic. DTRA also funded a large-scale renovation of the TRC-EID-HSC, which included provision of an Illumina sequencer and associated reagents.

Because of the support provided by DTRA, partners in Thailand leveraged existing capabilities to respond to its own COVID-19 outbreak. As recently as January 2021, DTRA collaborators at Chulalongkorn University (CU) and the Thai Red Cross Emerging Infectious Disease laboratory, identified the United Kingdom COVID-19 variant in a traveler entering Thailand from Europe. These collaborators successfully implemented next generation sequencing and bioinformatics capabilities for detecting COVID-19 and surveilling travelers in government-mandated quarantine. DTRA’s collaboration to support and strengthen laboratory disease surveillance and diagnostics capabilities prepared CU, the Thai Red Cross Society, and the Government of Thailand to detect the variant outbreak early, improved the country’s preparedness and response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Support to Vietnam

DTRA has worked with Vietnam since 2013 and over the past few months teamed with Vietnamese teams to build in-country biosecurity, biosafety, and biosurveillance capabilities.

In collaboration with the General Department of Preventative Medicine (GDPM), the Department of Animal Health, and the Vietnam One-Health University Network (VOHUN), DTRA conducted the seventh and final installment of the One Health Biorisk Management (OH BRM) global remote engagement case-based training series. The remote engagement capstone session focused on Vietnam’s multi-sectoral collaboration and response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This capstone session included over 240 participants from 28 countries, and featured contributions by Officials from the Ministry of Health GDPM, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development Department of Animal Health, and the U.S. CDC. The OH BRM remote engagement series has grown into a global network of sharing knowledge and experience, and reinforced Vietnam’s regional leadership role in BRM.

Building off of that success, DTRA and VOHUN conducted training in December 2020 on BRM Curriculum Development for Vietnam Military Medical University personnel. These workshops formalized the BRM curriculum with the Ministry of Education, enhancing Vietnam’s ability to sustain DTRA-enabled capabilities into the future.

DTRA has become an integral partner to countries all around the globe. Longstanding relationships with countries such as Indonesia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam is a testament to the agency’s dedication to facilitate elimination, security, detection, and surveillance of EDPs, whether they be naturally occurring or used with malicious intent.

As mentioned in a previous article about DTRA’s COVID-19 support to partners abroad, the Agency continues to encourage partner nations to leverage capabilities previously provided by DTRA and the Agency as a whole, to evolve past the pandemic and emerge stronger.

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