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WHO works with the National Centre of Laboratory and Epidemiology to strengthen COVID-19 testing capacity during this pandemic

WHO staff Ms Pakapak is using an extraction machine as part of the COVID-19 testing process.
Credit: WHO / S Khounpaseuth

A strong COVID-19 response must include a comprehensive strategy for surveillance and testing, to support effective public health response and to flatten the curve. Enhancing laboratory capacity is essential for rapid detection of positive cases, to roll out timely response to contain the spread.

Many countries responding to COVID-19 wants to increase testing capacity, and this has led to global supply challenges for materials. WHO with support from donors like Luxembourg Development, US Agency for International Development, Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and UK Department for International Development (DFID) has provided technical and financial support to the National Center for Laboratory and Epidemiology (NCLE) for procurement of laboratory equipment, reagents, swabs to meet the testing demand, and capacity has since improved at NCLE to about 500 tests per day.  

Since the pandemic, ten provincial laboratories have also built up capacity to test COVID-19 by portable PCR (pPCR). WHO has supported setting up the laboratory at Champassack Province which could test 200 COVID-19 samples daily by real-time PCR.  As there are sufficient pPCR machines and GeneXpert cartridges for all provinces, there is plan to expand pPCR or GeneXpert COVID-19 testing to the remaining 7 provinces. Many countries are also providing bilateral support directly to the Ministry of Health, total testing capacity nationwide has been increased to 900-100 tests per day.

WHO staff supports testing at NCLE

During this period, the personal protective equipment (PPE) is used daily by healthcare staff to protect themselves, especially those who are responsible for collecting samples in communities or testing samples in laboratories.

Ms Pakapak puts on Personal Protective Equipment and wear a N95 respirator to enter the laboratory.
Credit: WHO / S Khounpaseuth

WHO Technical Officer Ms Pakapak Ketmayoon work with the NCLE staff daily, she said “The laboratory staff processed all the samples collected from Vientiane Capital for COVID-19 testing daily. I worked with them to ensure that all biosafety practices and procedures are applied to protect themselves and they meet biosafety and quality standards.”

Ms Pakapak explaining how NCLE staff processes the samples.
Credit: WHO / S Khounpaseuth

Filming WHO’s support behind-the-scene

The Ministry of Health, Centre of Communication and Education for Health (CCEH) film crew will document Ms Ketmayoon’s support to NCLE. This is part of the WHO behind-the-scene videos to show how frontline health workers have been providing support to the COVID-19 response in the country.

Ms Ketmayoon shares with the CCEH film crew the rules for entering the laboratory.
Credit: WHO / S Khounpaseuth


Filming Ms Ketmayoon working with the extraction machine.
Credit: WHO / S Khounpaseuth

“Testing for COVID-19 continues to advance as the pandemic evolves. WHO is prioritizing the strengthening of COVID-19 laboratory testing capacities, and supporting frontline health workers who are responsible for detecting COVID-19 cases, to ensure that they are protected. We will also work with the Ministry of Health to expand the testing capacity to the remaining provinces, to meet the demand for testing at the provincial levels, to help keep the country safe and free from COVID-19.” said Dr Mark Jacobs, WHO Representative to Lao PDR.