Lao PDR COVID-19 Response
While Laos managed to avert COVID-19 deaths for the first year of the pandemic through a strong public health response and strict border quarantine, from April 2021 cases in the country increased, fanned by the fast-spreading Delta variant. Community transmission rose sharply in markets, restaurants and other public spaces, while the country’s vaccine rollout slowed down in areas outside of the capital Vientiane due to vaccine hesitancy and resource challenges.
As of December 2021, Laos recorded some 90,000 cases of COVID-19, and around 250 deaths. 42% of the population had received two doses of the vaccine, while 51% had received at least one dose (Source: Our World in Data). The majority of these doses were delivered in urban areas, emphasising the need for ‘last mile’ vaccination for rural and remote communities, which are particularly vulnerable due to a lack of health services.
On top of the public health implications of the pandemic, Laos has faced a significant economic shock. According to the World Bank, the country’s poverty rate increased by 1.7 percentage points during 2020, while a drop in trade and tourism reduced available jobs. Food prices have also increased, putting extra pressure on households.
The Australian Humanitarian Partnership launched an initial response in 2020, focusing on COVID-19 prevention and the economic fallout of the pandemic. In late 2021, a new activation, with funding from the Australian Government’s Vaccine Access and Health Security Initiative (VAHSI), began working on vaccination hesitancy and rollout challenges.
The AHP Response
The first phase of the AHP Lao PDR COVID-19 Response ran from July 2020 to September 2021, implemented by a consortium led by CARE Australia. It was supported by AUD1.5 million from the Australian Government. Other consortium partners were Save the Children and Plan International Australia (with assistance from ChildFund). Partners provided health, nutrition, gender-based violence, education and livelihoods support in four provinces, reaching more than 18,000 people.
The second phase of the response, which commenced in November 2021, has a strong focus on supporting the national COVID-19 vaccine rollout. This phase is being implemented by Oxfam Australia and CAN DO in partnership with seven local NGOs, with a commitment of AUD2.55 million from VAHSI.
This phase aims to increase COVID-19 vaccination coverage across four provinces of Laos by strengthening communications, community outreach and local systems. Activities will focus on improving risk communications and community engagement, training for sub-national health staff on vaccine delivery, and addressing barriers to vaccine access for vulnerable populations, such as women, people with disability, marginalised ethnic groups, youth and the elderly.
A rapid gender analysis of COVID-19 impacts in Lao PDR was completed together with local women’s rights organisations. The findings were translated and shared within the Lao Gender Network.
Partners supported marginalised women and girls in remote ethnic communities through the provision of nutrition kits and hygiene kits, as well as back to school items for primary school students.
Handwashing facilities were established in schools in Huaphanh Province, and infection prevention and control plans developed.
Work was undertaken to increase Village Savings and Loans Association membership and access to financial literacy training, with a focus on women’s economic empowerment activities.