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Lao health system continues to offer immunization services despite COVID-19 pandemic

Despite the arrival of COVID-19 in the Lao PDR last month, the health system here is continuing to provide essential health services – and in particular immunization. This message was endorsed by the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization to mark the start of World Immunization Week (WIW).

Dr Panome Sayamoungkhoun, Director of the Ministry of Health’s National Immunization Programme stated “Every infant and every child in the Lao PDR has the right to a healthy start to life that vaccines bring. Even though COVID-19 has arrived in our country, diseases such as measles, pertussis, diptheria and many other vaccine preventable diseases have not gone away. These disease can still damage or even kill our children unless we vaccinate them.”

“Only two generations ago, measles, pertussis, diptheria and other diseases against which we have vaccines ravaged communities across the Lao PDR. In 1990, an estimated 165 children died from measles and many more died from other common diseases. Now, these diseases are relatively rare, but we risk losing these tremendous gains Laos has made. Completing the immunization schedule protects the nation against these preventable diseases,” said Dr Howard SOBEL, Acting WHO Representative to the Lao PDR. “I’d like to commend the Lao Ministry of Health, the National Immunization Programme and frontline health workers for continuing to provide life saving vaccines in these difficult circumstances.”

WIW falls on 24-30 April each year. It is an important week to raise awareness about immunization as one of the cheapests and most effective health interventions and for promoting the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease. In the context of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak globally, this year’s WIW campaign focuses on highlighting the need to continue immunization during the pandemic and strengthen immunization activities as soon as physical distancing measures are lifted.

This year’s theme is “#Vaccines Work for all” which aims to emphasize that vaccines are effective in protecting everyone from vaccine-preventable diseases, not only children but also adolescents, adults and older people. Ultimately the whole community benefits from vaccines.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lao health facilities continue to offer immunization services to the communities. To ensure the safety of health care workers and communities from COVID-19 infection during immunization services, social distancing, hand hygiene and utilization of protective equipment has been followed strictly. Therefore, parents no need to concern about contracting COVID-19 during the immunization session.There is a need for parents to make sure that their infants and children get their routine immunizations.

Early this year, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which protects girls from developing cervical cancer when they become women, was introduced into the country’s national immunization schedule. As a result, over 360,000 girls aged 10-14 years old, regardless of their school enrollment status, have been protected against cervical cancer.  The vaccines are funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Government of the Lao PDR. WHO, UNICEF and partners have been supporting the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education and Sports in the implementation.

While the immunization efforts are moving forward positively, the demand for immunization remains low in some settings in the Lao PDR. This is especially the case in ethnic communities and remote areas, where there is low awareness of the benefits of immunization. In order to increase immunization in low-coverage districts of the country, WHO is working closely with health facilities and village leaders and village health volunteers. Together, they are spreading the message that “#Vaccines Work for all” and offering people the opportunity access to vaccines equally, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Source: Lao News Agency

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