At a glance: Lao People's Democratic Republic

Lao PDR suffers first cholera outbreak in nearly eight years

UNICEF Image: Lao PDR, cholera
© UNICEF Lao PDR/2008/ Leuanvilay
A water quality expert from the Lao PDR Ministry of Health, Dr. Bouakeo Suvanthong (second from left), demonstrates water disinfection techniques using chlorine to villagers after an outbreak of cholera in the Sekong Province.

By Tom Greenwood

VIENTIANE, Lao PDR, 30 January 2008 – The first outbreak of cholera in southern Lao People's Democratic Republic in nearly eight years has prompted a vigorous response from UNICEF and its partners.

Securing safe water and adequate sanitation is essential in tackling cholera, a water-borne disease. As such, immediate support has included chlorinating water sources, repairing damaged bore holes and educating villagers on hygiene.

UNICEF's response is in close coordination with the Lao Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization and the Asian Development Bank.

The epidemic was first recognized in the remote Sekong Province in late December. By mid-January, it had spread to some 30 villages in the Thataeng and Lamam Districts, where 362 cases of severe diarrhoea were reported, including three deaths.

“Now we are ensuring that people have access to safe drinking water, latrines and boiled water, not just in the two affected districts of Sekong Province but in all surrounding areas,” said UNICEF’s Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Lao PDR, Abdulai Kaikai.

UNICEF Image: Lao PDR, cholera
© UNICEF Lao PDR/2008/ Leuanvilay
Cholera patients at a temporary medical centre near the affected villages.

Swift response

Mr. Kaikai, who represented UNICEF on the initial joint assessment mission to the area, commended the swift reaction of the government in dealing with the crisis. On 11 January, Lao PDR Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh visited Sekong to coordinate efforts to deal with the outbreak and meet cholera patients.

“The government responded very, very well,” Mr. Kaikai said. “There was concern right from the top leadership. That helps with containment.”

Ensuring that people have access to safe drinking water has been one of UNICEF’s top priorities, as volunteers work to repair broken handpumps and distribute water-purification tablets with the assistance of the Sekong Provincial Health Department.

Hopeful for the future

Meanwhile, UNICEF is working with local health officials on a communication campaign to inform people about safe sanitation practices through poster billboards, radio and television messages, announcements from loudspeakers and community outreach programmes.

Health experts are now hopeful that the outbreak has been contained. No deaths have been reported since 3 January.

“The number of new cases has dramatically dropped,” said UNICEF’s Chief of Young Child Survival and Development for Lao PDR, Dr. Aboudou Karimou Andele. “This means people have understood what to do to avoid infection.”


 

 

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