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Ministry of Health prepares Lao media to report on the next COVID-19 outbreak

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Icebreaker session at Lao MOH Media Workshop supported by WHO
Photo credit: CCEH, Lao MOH

Yesterday 30 journalists from Lao TV, radio and print media joined a workshop organised by the Ministry of Health’s Centre for Communication and Education for Health. Top of the agenda was discussing how to cover future COVID-19 outbreaks in Lao PDR.

Lao PDR was declared COVID free on 10 June by the Prime Minister Mr Thongloun Sisoulith, following the discharge of the last patient, and with no new infection reported for more than two months.

However, measures remain in place as the country remains vigilant, with a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in several countries in Asia and around the world. COVID continues to accelerate globally with a million new cases reported last week: a total of 8,993.659 cases were reported as of 23 June compared to 7,941,791 cases as of 16 June.

Health authorities in Lao PDR are working to further strengthened the surveillance systems for early warning and detection of outbreaks. For example, they now have staff in place to do health screening at all international Points of Entry into the country and are putting in place community-level surveillance to rapidly detect clusters of people with COVID-like symptoms such as cough and fever.

The Ministry of Health, with support from WHO and funded by the United States, through the U.S. Agency for International Development has been working with Lao journalists to ensure that the media is well prepared to report on the next COVID-19 outbreak. The government believes that providing timely, transparent and actionable information on COVID-19 can help save lives and avoid unjustified fear and anxiety.

Facebook and other social media platform are widely used by Lao people, but many do turn to traditional mass media such as TV, radio and newspaper when they need accurate, reliable information.

Speaking on this subject, Dr Howard SOBEL, Acting WHO Representative in Lao PDR said:

The COVID-19 outbreak and response has been accompanied by a massive ‘infodemic’ – an over-abundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it. This is why it is important that journalists have access to official sources, and opportunity to verify this information when needed. “

At the workshop in Vientiane Capital on 25 June, journalists were encouraged to share their experiences of reporting on the country’s first COVID-19 outbreak and identify ways health authorities can work more effectively with media to communicate future outbreaks.

The training included a table-top emergency simulation exercise. This enabled the journalists to go through several scenarios for future outbreaks and discuss how they would report these. They scenario generated a useful dialogue on how the health authorities can engage with journalists during outbreaks to help achieve high quality media coverage that gives people the information they need to protect themselves and their families.