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

Despite the arrival of COVID-19 in 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, Acting Director of Mother and Child Health Center, the Ministry of Health, stated “Every infant and every child in 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 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 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 “#VaccinesWork 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 equipmenthas 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 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 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 “#VaccinesWork for all” and offering people the opportunity access to vaccines equally, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

World Immunization Week 2020

World Immunization Week – celebrated in the last week of April (24 to 30 April) – aims to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease. Immunization saves millions of lives every year and is widely recognized as one of the world’s most successful and cost-effective health interventions. Yet, there are still nearly 20 million children in the world today who are not getting the vaccines they need.

The theme this year is #VaccinesWork for All and the campaign will focus on how vaccines – and the people who develop, deliver and receive them – are heroes by working to protect the health of everyone, everywhere.

2020 campaign objectives

The main goal of the campaign is to urge greater engagement around immunization globally and the importance of vaccination in improving health and wellbeing of everyone, everywhere throughout life.

As part of the 2020 campaign, WHO and partners aim to:
  • Demonstrate the value of vaccines for the health of children, communities and the world.
  • Show how routine immunization is the foundation for strong, resilient health systems and universal health coverage.
  • Highlight the need to build on immunization progress while addressing gaps, including through increased investment in vaccines and immunization.

Given that WHO has designated 2020 the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, WHO will highlight nurses and midwives for their crucial role as early vaccine champions for new parents and parents-to-be.
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