Ministries and UN Lao PDR Unite to Respond to COVID-19

A story from the UN COVID-19 Response and Recovery Multi-Partner Trust Fund project.

To implement effective preparedness activities to prevent potential widespread of COVID-19 transmission across Lao PDR, a project under the United Nations COVID-19 Response and Recovery Multi-Partner Trust Fund was launched in May 2020. Jointly implemented by UN agencies in Lao PDR including WHO, UNODC, UN-HABITAT, UNCDF, IOM, and UNDP in cooperation with the Lao Ministry of Health (MoH), Ministry of Public Security (MoPS), Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MoPWT), and Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA), the project successfully concluded in March 2021 following efforts to support Points of Entry (PoEs) to screen, monitor and isolate potential cases, treat patients at adequate medical or isolation centers, and provide water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure and services at quarantine centers.

Beginning in May 2020, following the development of agreed upon Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), more than 600 frontline officers stationed at 27 PoEs across the country—including land border crossings and airports—were trained to establish mechanisms to screen and monitor cross-border movements at areas having high flow of migration, trucks, and challenges for trafficking in persons. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was provided to front line officers at 7 quarantine centers and all 27 PoEs across the country to protect the officer against health risks at work.

Pol. Major Gen., Oulay Saypanya, a member of Boten-Mohan Checkpoint Management Committee in Luang Namtha province shared how the project had supported frontline officials, “The SOP informs the different PoE sectors of a clear division of their roles and responsibilities as they respond to incoming migrants; this leads to a more organized border management system. The SOP also instructs frontline officials on ways to effectively protect themselves against the virus while on duty” he said. The mapping assessments also helped the team to discover gaps in areas such as transportation of migrants to quarantine centers, physical distancing practices and PPE supplies.

After participating in the trainings, Pol. Major Gen. Saypanya had enhanced knowledge on COVID-19 risks and felt better equipped as the first line of defense against COVID-19 being imported into Lao PDR. “We [frontline officials] are now better protected with the personal protective equipment provided by the project. I have also shared the knowledge with over 40 people, including immigration officials, colleagues from other sectors as well as my family members.”

Pol. Major Gen., Oulay Saypanya presenting on safe transportation of migrants to the quarantine centers

Following each training to border officials, which were held in central locations, participants passed on their lessons learned to colleagues at remote land border crossings, ensuring this essential information reached the most vulnerable communities. More than one hundred local officials were trained through these subsequent downstream workshops. A ‘pocket guide’ and other reference material on the pandemic and public health practice was also developed in Lao to assist frontline officers covering the essential information shared during trainings. Using these materials, officers can continue to apply critical disease control measures at PoEs.

After entering the country, all new arrivals are expected to isolate in Government designated quarantine centers for 2 weeks. Six quarantine centers in four provinces of Champasak, Luang Prabang, Savannahkhet, and Xayaboury were supported with improved WASH infrastructure and services, reaching 11,348 people (6,025 females and 5,323 males) between October 2020 and February 2021. New gender-separated toilets, public hand-washing stations, shower facilities, water network expansion, including pipes, taps and drainage rehabilitation were provided together with information, education and communication materials to raise awareness of the local population on proper WASH practices.

Mr. Khampoun Nuansabap, the Manager of Songkhone District Quarantine Center, Savannakhet province, recalled: “Prior to the project, there was a constant shortage of water, food, and other essential non-food items. The support on WASH equipment helped ensure safer, healthier and more comfortable stay for many Lao migrant workers/returnees from Thailand while they undergo quarantine for fourteen days” he said and added that “The construction of proper gender-separated bathrooms, has particularly been beneficial as there were only two basic latrines at the facility prior to the project support.”

In addition to WASH support, seven quarantine centers in Bokeo, Luang Namtha, Champasak, and Xayaboury were provided with kitchen supplies, sanitation equipment, light renovations, and computers to support facility management. The project also developed a Quarantine Center Profile and Occupancy Registration Database to enable the Government to better monitor border crossings and quarantine capacities in real time from the central level, allowing for resources to be more effectively targeted to where it is needed most.  

A proper gender-separated bathroom has been constructed at Songkhone quarantine center

From September to October 2020, 321 local Government officials in the four bordering provinces were also trained to prevent and contain COVID-19 through enhanced public services and community engagement. The training was based on three scenarios, protecting community from entry of COVID-19, containing and mitigating transmission of COVID-19 in communities, and protecting and improving health of citizens beyond COVID-19.

The local officials from each workshop contributed to their “Provincial Preparedness Action Plan” which was drafted and introduced at a project lessons learnt workshop to leaders of the participating provinces and ministries in February 2021. The plans identify the roles and responsibilities, required resources, and good practices that ensure a strengthened localized preventative approach to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the lesson learnt workshop, Mr. Khammoune Viphongxay, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs shared that “Local authorities at all levels are a major force in assisting the population, implementing measures to monitor and control the spread of COVID-19.”

Adding to Mr. Viphongxay’s comments, Dr. Phouthone Meuangpak, Deputy Minister of Health, said "Improving health of the people is the responsibility of everyone, not only the health sector. Next steps should include continuing to strengthen multi-sectoral collaboration in local governance; identifying clear responsibilities of each sector, for example the management of illegal border crossings and quarantine centers.”

Vice ministers participating in the Lesson Learnt Workshop in Luang Prabang, 2-3 February 2021

Whilst the multi-partner project closed in March 2021, the implementing ministries and institutions continue to effectively implement the respective measures in response to the COVID-19 transmission across Lao PDR. Roles, responsibilities and needs of authorities at the provincial, district and village levels, now better understand their roles and how best to collaborate between all Government agencies and sectors of society. Ms. Ricarda Rieger, UNDP Resident Representative, concluded “It has been encouraging to see how different ministries and departments worked together to address the pandemic. We hope that the spirit of collaboration prevails to ensure that Lao PDR can continue to implement the strong border procedures to keep COVID-19 at bay. It is not only an issue for the Ministry of Health, but the responsibility of each Ministry and every citizen to collectively respond to health risks for a safer and healthier community.”

Written by
Lien Le Thi Huong
Development Coordination Officer Head of Communications
Aksonethip Somvorachit
Communications Analyst
Aksonethip Somvorachit - Photo
Karen Ho
Junior Communication Officer
Keren Ho - Photo
UN entities involved in this initiative
International Organization for Migration
United Nations Resident Coordinator Office
United Nations Human Settlements Programme
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime