Laos presents an ideal platform for spread of trans-boundary and emerging zoonotic pathogens through a complex web of wildlife, livestock, and human interfaces, extending from remote protected areas to the centre of the capital city. Wildlife is still widely hunted across the country, eaten by villagers for subsistence, traded locally in wet and medicinal markets, and transported widely for domestic and international trade. The extensive and often geographically rugged borders of land-locked Laos are extremely porous and movement of wildlife products, livestock, and other items are pervasive both into and out of the country, representing a potentially significant conduit for the movement of novel pathogens. Large areas of Laos remain forested with high levels of biodiversity and low levels of development, and a large proportion of the human population in Laos still resides in rural areas. Laos has seen high levels of economic growth in the last decade and along with this growth have come building of new roads, many extractive and hydroelectric industries, and an increase in intensive farming which has resulted in large swathes of deforestation and dramatic land-use changes. All of these activities have the potential to alter disease ecology and have led to increased contact between people, livestock, and wildlife and the diseases they carry.
Current capacity for animal and human disease surveillance and response in Laos is developing. Despite the economic development of the last decade, the government often remains reliant on foreign sponsors for surveillance support, and infrastructure in many isolated parts of the country, particularly the rugged mountainous areas, is minimal. The existing animal and human health professionals are very enthusiastic to cooperate to improve the understanding of zoonoses within Laos. Thus, despite the many challenges the country faces, with the coordination of the EPT partners there is great potential for improvement of disease control activities.
In addition, due to the region-wide response to highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in recent years, links between human and animal health sectors do exist but require strengthening. Areas of focus include improving current levels of awareness regarding the principles of One Health, additional capacity building efforts, and mobilizing adequate resource allocations to ensure sustainability. Linkages among the human and animal health sectors as well as the ecology and environment sectors also need to be encouraged and supported. Infectious disease surveillance and detection systems in wildlife, a prerequisite to effective holistic outbreak investigation and response, remain a critically important unmet need in the region. Gaps exist in the supply of highly qualified bachelor and graduate-level training in animal health/disease, environmental science and ecology, as well as One Health. Implementing partner: Wildlife Conservation Society.