On 21 and 22 October senior officials and experts from across government met key international partners and NGOs to review Lao PDR’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They found much to praise in the government’s response to the pandemic so far. However, the huge efforts made by government, partners and the Lao public during 2020 will need to be sustained into 2021. The reopening of the country to more international travel and the possible arrival of some COVID-19 vaccines in 2021 will both need to be planned for and managed carefully.
Opening Lao PDR’s National Intra-Action Review meeting on 21 October Assoc Prof Dr Phouthone Meuangpak, Vice Minister of Health said:
“Lao PDR’s total of COVID-19 cases is, so far, easily the lowest in ASEAN, and one of the lowest in all of Asia. We can all be very proud of this. But now is not the time to congratulate ourselves and relax our efforts. The risk to our country and people from COVID-19 remains very real, as the virus continues to circulate around the world. That’s why this review is so important”
WHO’s Representative to Lao PDR, Dr Mark Jacobs commented:
“The keys to Lao PDR’s success have been: clear leadership of the national response; clear proactive public communication; very early public health measures including lockdown; good acceptance by the community of these measure; and a focus on the border. Its early success meant it was able to gradually ease the lockdown and other restrictions without seeing a big return of the disease. Our common goal now must be maintaining, and where needed increasing, our collective efforts, resources and commitment to beat COVID-19.”
An Intra-Action Review is a way for a country to capture good practice and identify opportunities for further improvement in its response to an ongoing emergency. The review brings together key experts and officials working on different aspects of the response for a structured discussion about what aspects are working well, and which need to be further improved. Holding an Intra-Action Review during a protracted emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic is regarded as international best practice. The World Health Organization (WHO) has strongly encouraged countries to hold these Reviews on COVID-19 and in July published guidance to help countries do this. Lao PDR is among the first wave of countries to hold a COVID-19 Intra-Action Review.
The meeting was organized by the Ministry of Health with support from WHO. Over two-day it looked at all aspects of the government’s response to COVID-19: from detecting and testing COVID-19 cases; to tracing close contacts of those cases; to COVID-19 treatment; to quarantine centres; lockdowns; logistics and risk communication. The meeting was based around interactive discussions within working groups looking at these and other aspects of the response.
Many sessions included input from officials from different parts of government. For example, officials from the airports authority and border security contributed to discussions on public health controls at international airport and other points of entry into Lao PDR. The Ministry of Telecommunication participated in the risk communication working group. Public bodies including the Office of the Prime Minister, the National Assembly, the Ministry of Public Works & Transport, the Ministry of Defence, and the Ministry of Home Affairs. contributed to discussions on cross-government coordination.
The World Health Organization (WHO) supported the Ministry of Health in organising and facilitating the meeting. Development partners including the World Bank, Asia Development Bank, Australia and USA participated in several sessions. The international non-governmental organisation Population Services International (PSI) was a co-organiser of the meeting while Save the Children International helped facilitate on of the risk communication working groups.
Results from the Intra-Action Review will be used by the Ministry of Health and the government to further improve the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.