Fighting COVID-19 with science
Since the start of the pandemic, NATO’s Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme has tapped into its broad network of scientists and research institutions in NATO and partner countries to find innovative solutions against the spread of the coronavirus. The Programme was established with similar objectives in mind: to address emerging and ongoing security challenges, such as the one posed by the current pandemic, through collaborative initiatives.
Improving diagnosis capacity
The SPS response to the global coronavirus outbreak was quick: through a project launched in May 2020, scientists from Italy and Switzerland are developing tools for the rapid diagnosis of COVID-19. The research team is aiming to develop a new generation of rapid, accurate and sensitive immuno-diagnostic methods through an approach that combines expertise in the fields of immunology, virology and molecular biology. The results are expected to have a long-term impact on the international response to the spread of viruses on a large scale. “This project is very important, especially in the context of new indispensable tools that we will have to deal with in the second phase of the health emergency,” stated Professor Silvio Brusaferro, President of the Italian National Health Institute, at the launch of the project.
“Mobile laboratories have proven to be very efficient for the diagnosis of highly dangerous pathogens as well as for training health workers,” stated Dr Eyüp Turmus, NATO SPS Advisor and Programme Manager. In Morocco and Tunisia, an ongoing SPS project is developing mobile analytical laboratories that will improve response capacity by including the COVID-19 agent in their library of detectable pathogens. Similarly, in the Republic of Moldova, a mobile biological laboratory will boost surveillance capability, early detection and rapid response to infectious biological agents, and may prove very useful in the fight against the pandemic.
Boosting emergency responses
North Macedonia is using the Next-Generation Incident Command System (NICS) – a tool that helps to enhance response coordination among state institutions and organisations like the Red Cross. Under the SPS Programme, the use of the NICS has spread across the Western Balkans to improve cooperation and information-sharing among first responders during disasters. In North Macedonia, the tool is enabling first responders to exchange information rapidly and efficiently via mobile devices; it also provides the public with real-time data on the status of the pandemic in their area, and gives useful points of contact for assistance.
In Mauritania, the recently launched SPS project ‘PROMEDEUS’ will improve coordination between Mauritanian Civil Protection and health emergency systems, and participating authorities. "The PROMEDEUS project matches perfectly the needs and expectations of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, as we are making significant efforts to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic,” stated Dr Mohamed Salem Ould Merzoug, Minister of Interior and Decentralisation of Mauritania. In the framework of the SPS Programme, NATO had already worked with this partner country between 2012 and 2017 to set up a crisis management centre in Nouakchott and four regional coordination centres. The crisis management centre, as well as the telemedicine capabilities to be delivered with PROMEDEUS, will help Mauritania to combat COVID-19 and similar emergencies in the future.
SPS initiatives are delivering tangible results and are an integral component of NATO’s broader response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Looking ahead, the Programme will continue to work with its network of scientists to identify current and future knowledge and research gaps, in an effort to harness innovative ideas and ramp up the number of activities dealing with the pandemic’s implications for security.