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Data helps to prepare and contain the COVID-19 outbreak in Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Accurate and timely data are crucial to identify risks early, inform policy decision making, and guide a country’s actions to manage the pandemic. To make sure the best possible information is available, collecting it from a range of different sources is key, not just for COVID-19 but for any public health threat.  

A real advantage for the COVID-19 response in Lao PDR has been the long-term investment in building a national health information system based on software called the District Health Information System, or DHIS2. WHO has been supporting the development and implementation of this system here since 2013.

Lao PDR managed to rapidly design, develop and implement a new COVID-19 tracker, based on the existing DHIS2 system within 3 weeks of activation of the emergency response to COVID-19 response in early as March 2020. This system manages data on suspected cases, positive cases, contacts and migrant worker returnees. The system features several dashboards to facilitate easy visualization for active monitoring, surveillance and quality control.

Dashboard on DHIS2 to monitor COVID-19 cases, contacts and suspected cases

Frequent monitoring of health capacity indicators to treat COVID-19 cases is another key area supported by WHO.

WHO Representative to Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Dr Mark Jacobs said “To support the country in its preparedness and response, we are also able to rely on DHIS2 to determine hospital demand and capacity to deal with potential COVID-19 patients. The sorts of information the system can produce has real time benefit for effective and agile pandemic responses.”

An ICU nurse at one of the COVID-19 treatment hospitals entering data on a tablet PC
Photo credit: S. KhounpaseuthPC

WHO’s support to the Ministry of Health to rapidly develop and roll out a tablet-based system to collect vital information on the utilization of health resources such as COVID-19 and ICU beds, ventilators and human resources for health in designated COVID-19 treatment hospitals helps us to constantly keep an eye on utilization trends and to plan ahead”  stated Dr Viengsakhone Louangpradith from the Department of Healthcare and Rehabilitation, Ministry of Health of Lao PDR.

A dashboard which shows the utilization of COVID-19 treatment resources.

Whilst the Ministry of Health continues to strengthen its capacity to prepare for and respond to future cases of COVID-19, it also needs to ensure that routine essential health services continue to be provided, and trends of health services utilization and delivery need to be monitored regularly. WHO has also been supporting this function by providing information management support in monitoring key essential health service indicators.

A set of core indicators are monitored monthly with the aim to identify any changes either in the delivery or uptake of essential health services and thereby to take quick remedial action as needed. The information produced by the system has already helped the Ministry of Health to make informed health decisions such as to increase outreach activity for immunization and other key maternal and child health services.

Technical support to strengthen health information systems has been an integral part of WHO’s support to the Ministry of Health. The investments made in this key area in the past have helped to further bolster its capacity deal with the direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19.