Letter from Dr. Paul BREY, Director
As we approach the Chinese New Year 2021 (Year of the Ox)! who would have thought during the Chinese New Year last year that the deadly emerging virus that was already circulating in Wuhan China and would cause such a global mayhem with over 107 Million cases and 2.4 million deaths a year later! This past year has been a very busy one for our Institute as we were helping the National Laboratory doing COVID-19 sampling and testing. Furthermore, we carried out a sero-survey on the circulation of COVID-19 in Lao PDR during the month of July 2020. Finally, we have been carrying out field sampling of bats and rodents to find the origin of SARS-CoV-2. On top of COVID-related subjects that dominated our year we also continued our other activities.
The COVID-19 situation forced us to reach out to the donor community for support. Canada, France , USA and the UK have been extremely generous with our Institute by helping us purchase nucleic acid extraction kits, Viral transport Medium, COVID diagnostic reagents, etc., not to mention PPE for our staff in lab and at the airport.
Other donors like Luxembourg, Canada and Japan provided equipment to be able to do the diagnostic testing, Sanger Sequencing, as well as biological sample storage and COVID vaccine Storage.
One 96-sample RT-PCR Machine for COVID Testing
- Two 96-sample portable RT-PCR Machines for COVID Testing
- One high-speed centrifuge for Sample extraction in the BSL-3 plus lab
- One Automatic DNA/RNA extractor for sample extraction in the BSL-3 plus lab
- Three -35°C Mid-range Freezer/Refrigerator Combos for molecular reagent storage
- Several sets of research pipets and multi-channel pipets as well as vortices and other smaller lab equipment.
- Seven -80°C ultra-low freezer for biological sample storage.
All of this laboratory equipment significantly increases our diagnostic capacity of COVID and reduces the amount of time needed to prepare and diagnose samples.
We now have the capacity to test several hundred of samples a week. We are also testing all passengers on the UN World Food Program flights, which has allowed diplomats and international experts to travel during the crisis. As the country slowly opens to accept additional flights of special workers from China, IP Laos has now carrying out weekly COVID-19 testing on passengers from China. Of course, it is the Lao National Laboratory that is bearing the brunt of the COVID testing, but IP Laos, as a second-line laboratory, is sharing some of that burden. IP Laos is also providing testing for French and European passengers, as well as diplomats and VIPs who need a COVID-19 test 72h prior to flight departure.
I want to commend the Minister of Health and Chairman of IP Laos, Dr. Bounkong Syhavong for his leadership and the Lao Ministry of Health on their exemplary contact tracing and the general handling of the COVID situation in Laos during this year, which has one of the lowest confirmed case indices (45) in the world with no COVID-related deaths!
As I write these lines, the Russian government (Sputnik V) and Chinese government (SinoPharm) have donated COVID vaccines to Lao PDR and vaccination is already underway for health care workers and high-risk groups. The Covax Facility will also donate COVID vaccines (Pfizer and AstraZeneca) and IP Laos will serve as a storage facility for the Pfizer vaccines, which necessitate ultra-low storage (-70°C)