Letter from Dr. Philippe BUCHY, General Director

The year 2023 was very special for the Institut Pasteur du Laos (IPL) with the retirement of Dr. Paul Brey, General Director, in July and the departure of Dr. Antoine des Graviers in September. Dr. Antoine des Graviers became the Director of the Institut Pasteur de la Guadeloupe and was replaced in his CFO role at IPL by Mr. Pascal Masse-Navette who has a long experience as CFO within the Pasteur Network. Dr. Brey and Dr. des Graviers founded and then managed this Institute for 15 years. I would like here to pay a very special tribute to the enormous amount of work put in as well as the exceptional dedication they have shown over all these years for the good of the Institute and of the Lao people. Dr. Antony Black, Head of vaccine-preventable disease laboratory, also decided in 2023 to pursue a new path in his carrier in his home country, after a decade of amazing work at IPL. The ambition of the new management team is to support the growth of the Institute while maintaining the focus on the 3 main mandates that were given by the Ministry of Health: delivering high-quality research, training young Lao Scientists, and supporting public health activities.

In 2023, IPL maintained its activities on COVID-19 diagnosis and genetic characterization of SARS-CoV-2 variants. The implementation of next generation sequencing at IPL allowed the early identification of the new variants in Laos. Maintaining in the country such close and constant monitoring of the variants in circulation is extremely important and complements the efforts made by other national and international organizations such as the National Center for Laboratory and Epidemiology (NCLE), the Department of Communicable Disease Control (DCDC) from the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO), to control COVID-19 in Laos.

The year 2023 was marked by a major outbreak of dengue fever with more than 30,000 cases reported nationally. Through its surveillance system relying on a network of 22 sentinel hospitals, IPL received over 2,000 patient’s clinical specimens in order to perform the diagnosis of arbovirus infections (dengue, chikungunya and Zika). Ongoing genomic analysis of the viruses detected over the last years will help to better understand the dynamics of circulation of these viruses in the country.

Following the recent detection of human avian influenza H5N1 cases in neighboring Cambodia, IPL decided to anticipate the need for genomic analysis of any influenza A virus in a very timely manner and is now ready to support, with the capacity to fully sequence these viruses within just a few days, the efforts of the other national stakeholders involved in influenza surveillance in Human and animals.

After already few years of successful engagement in the field of pathogen discovery in arthropods and wild animals such as bats that, among others, has shed light on the origins SARS-CoV-2 virus, IPL initiated a very ambitious research project on emerging viral pathogens in wild animals from Laos in collaboration with the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Canada and the support from Global Affairs Canada (GAC).

The team of medical entomology is exploring the role of various arthropods, such as sandflies, ticks and other ectoparasites, in the transmission of known or unknown infectious diseases in the country. Several new pathogens or pathogens that are new to the country are currently under characterization. New species of sandflies have also been described and the work was reported in reputable scientific journals.

The year 2023 saw the official start of SATREPS project. This program uses a multi-pronged approach to accelerate malaria and schistosomiasis elimination, as well as Liver fluke control in Lao PDR.

The Vaccine-preventable disease (VPD) laboratory worked on a number of projects of major public health importance for Laos, including hepatitis, tuberculosis, tetanus, diphtheria, and also on the relationship between water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and infectious diseases. More recently, a large study looking at the major causes of mortality by infectious diseases in young children was initiated. The results of this project will bring extremely valuable insights into the prevention of child mortality in Laos.

After a very successful year 2023, it is with great confidence that we begin the year 2024 and prepare ourselves to face the coming new challenges.