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Minister of Health updates Western Pacific countries on Lao PDR’s COVID-19 successes & challenges during online meeting

At the online meeting of health ministers from Western Pacific countries today Minister of Health Assoc Prof Dr Bounkong Syhavong and WHO Representative to Lao PDR Dr Mark Jacobs showcased the country’s good practices in responding to COVID-19. But despite Lao PDR having had only 23 confirmed cases of COVID-19 the pandemic has still hit the country hard: “Uptake of essential health services has declined, over 100,000 Lao migrant workers have returned to the country, there have been widespread job loses and economic growth has slowed” said Assoc Prof Dr Bounkong. “It is vital we do not see a re-emergence of COVID-19, as has happened in other countries” he warned.

The online meeting Assoc Prof Dr Bounkong and Dr Jacobs spoke at is seventy-first session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for the Western Pacific. This takes place 6-9 October and is being held virtually because of the pandemic. It brings together health ministers and senior officials from countries and areas across Asia and the Pacific to agree actions and chart priorities for WHO in this region.

Dr Takeshi Kasai, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, cited work Lao PDR is doing on risk communication as good practice in his keynote opening address. The first day of the Regional Committee Meeting focused on COVID-19. As part of his keynote address, Dr Kasai showed a short video of Assoc Prof Dr Bounkong and Dr Jacobs presenting how Lao PDR has communicated about COVID-19 at national level and at the level of communities.  

WHO Representative to Lao PDR Dr Mark Jacobs and Minister of Health Assoc Prof Bounkong Syhavong participate in seventy-first meeting of WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific

This tells how the Ministry of Health held daily press conferences, web-streaming them live on Facebook, sent regular text messages mobile phone users and scaled up the 166/165 hotline during the COVID-19 outbreak in Lao PDR. It also reports on actions to engage communities, including working with Monks.

During the open discussion on COVID-19, the Minister further highlighted the challenges COVID-19 posed for Lao PDR. He stated the government must continue to be guided by science as it decides how to mitigate and reduce the risks posed by COVID-19. It must also ensure investments in health made to fight COVID-19 are continued into the future.

Reflecting on the discussion, WHO Representative to Lao PDR Dr Mark Jacobs concluded “The important capacity strengthening Lao PDR is doing, with the support of partners, to respond to COVID-19 needs to be continued into the future. Rigorous infection prevention and control; a strong focus on patient safety; continued development of the health workforce; enhanced community engagement; and pro-active risk communication – these are all key elements of a resilient health system that can respond well not just to COVID-19 but to future emergencies. Our aim should be to build and maintain a resilient Lao health system for the longer term, not just to respond to COVID-19