China-Laos anti-epidemic collaboration is both a successful story of international health cooperation and a concrete example of joint construction of a community with a shared future
Early on February 8, a charter cargo flight from China landed at Wattay International Airport in Vientiane, capital of Laos. Loaded with 300,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and syringes, the plane was greeted at the airport by Lao Minister of Health Syhavong Bounkong and Chinese Ambassador to Laos Jiang Zaidong.
Laos was one of the first countries to receive assistance from China on vaccinating its people against the virus. “We sincerely thank China for lending a helping hand at a crucial moment of our fight against the disease,” said Bounkong. “This is another example of generous support from the Communist Party of China, the Chinese government and Chinese people, and the people of Laos have been greatly encouraged. China has contributed to improved availability and affordability of COVID-19 vaccines in developing countries, helping the world erect a solid defensive line against the virus.” A Chinese-developed COVID-19 vaccine brought into earlier emergency use in Laos has shown high effectiveness, Bounkong asserted, saying that he himself received a dose of the vaccine on January 27.
“Chinese people always do their best for friends in need, and China always stands ready to join hands with Laos in the face of adversity,” said Ambassador Jiang. He also noted that Laos becoming one of the first export recipients of China’s COVID-19 vaccine represents vigorous action to deepen the China-Laos community with a shared future as well as joint construction of a global community of health for all, which is expected to help Laos enhance epidemic control and economic recovery.
After the COVID-19 outbreak in early 2020, the Chinese government delivered a quick response and took complete and robust measures to curb the spread of the virus. Laos stood firm with China during the health crisis. Bounnhang Vorachith, then-president of Laos, sent a message of condolence to Chinese President Xi Jinping, conveying that the Lao people stood ready to work hand in hand with the Chinese people to overcome the challenge together.
On February 11, 2020, a fundraising event in support of China’s fight against COVID-19 was jointly organized by the Laos-China Friendship Association and the Vientiane municipal government under the commission from the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party and the Lao government. At the event, then Lao Deputy Prime Minister Somdy Douangdy called on Lao people from all walks of life to lend a helping hand to China. He noted that Laos and China are both socialist countries as well as friendly neighbors that are now jointly building an unbreakable community with a shared future and that the two peoples enjoy a close rapport. He stated that Laos is always ready to make every effort to support China’s anti-epidemic campaign and stand side by side with China through any Prime Minister difficult times. Over 300 Lao firms donated more than US$500,000 to assist the Chinese people in combating the highly infectious disease.
On February 21, 2020, a ceremony was held in Vientiane to hand over donations collected from across Laos. At the ceremony, visiting Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, then Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, and Lao Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith stood side by side, raised their arms and chanted, “Stay strong, Wuhan” and “Stay strong, China.”
Overseas Chinese in Laos also took action. They donated medical supplies worth more than 2 million yuan (US$307,000) and expressed concern for the safety and health of the people in their ancestral homeland. They pledged to unite with Chinese people and stand with them through the dark days.
Some Lao artists composed songs to voice support for frontline medical workers, Aluna Thavonsouk among them. She wrote both the lyrics and melodies of a song titled “Thank You.” “I’ve been following the news of Chinese doctors and nurses who worked day and night to save lives,” revealed Aluna. “Their dedication was so awe-inspiring that I had to do something to show my highest respect to them.”
We firmly believe with love we will triumph
It breaks my heart when you suffer
We will overcome difficulties together
Together, we become strongerfrom the song Believe Love Will Triumph
In February 2020, a music video by young Lao singers performing “Believe Love Will Triumph” together became a hit across the country. The song was originally a popular anthem released earlier in China calling for national unity and strength amid the raging virus and was translated into the Lao language. “We firmly believe with love we will triumph,” goes a line. “It breaks my heart when you suffer. We will overcome difficulties together. Together, we become stronger.” The video attracted over 3 million views online in Laos, and many locals posted words of encouragement to related message boards. “When I first watched the music video in Chinese, I was really impressed. And now I was moved to tears by the Lao language version. Long live friendship between Laos and China!” said a Lao netizen named Mothidar Lorvunsai.
A Community with a Shared Future
The COVID-19 virus continued to spread in March 2020, and the Ministry of Health of Laos announced its first two confirmed cases on March 24. Five days after Laos asked for help from China, a team of 12 medical experts arrived in Vientiane on a chartered plane carrying a wealth of anti-epidemic supplies. Supplies donated by China included laboratory equipment and consumables such as instruments for automated nucleic acid extraction and quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) detection, microcentrifuges and tubes, and 10,000 COVID-19 nucleic acid detection kits. Many Chinese and Western medicines, 10,560 N95 respirators, 60,000 medical masks, and 6,000 sets of protective outfits also came with the Chinese medical team.
After arriving in Laos, Chinese medical experts immediately dove into assisting their Lao counterparts on epidemic prevention and control. Over the subsequent two weeks, they developed three plans and three sets of guidelines on COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment as well as 14 documents on clinical management. They also conducted 15 field investigations and more than 20 training activities in six local hospitals. The Chinese medical team worked closely with the Lao side and delivered encouraging results despite limited time.
On April 11, the team made an investigation trip to No.150 Hospital in Vientiane, a hospital dedicated to treating COVID-19 patients. To gain first-hand knowledge of the medical procedure for confirmed cases, team members Yang Xiaohua and Fang Xu entered the isolation ward despite the potential health risk.
When examining a patient in the ward, Yang was asked if he was from China. “The patient couldn’t see my face behind the mask, but when I told him I was a Chinese doctor, he gave me a thumbs-up,” Yang recalled. “It was the most touching moment during my mission in Laos. Disease knows no borders. As a medical professional, it is my duty to go wherever the epidemic goes.”
Maneechan Thongsana, head of the Department of Infectious Diseases at No.150 Hospital, opined that the Chinese medical team brought love and hope in addition to experience, medicine, and equipment. She said the Chinese experts enthusiastically shared their clinical practice with Lao healthcare providers and offered them immense help to fight the virus.
Davone Duangdany served as an interpreter for testing personnel in the Chinese medical team. “The Chinese experts often emphasized that they would do whatever they could to help the Lao people, and I was really impressed,” she said. “They thanked me every time I finished my work, but I always felt like I should have been thanking them. I always wanted to blurt, ‘Thank you for your hard work and everything you have done for my country.’”
“Two successive Chinese medical teams and accompanying anti-epidemic supplies donated by China effectively improved the capabilities of Laos to cope with the health crisis,” remarked then Lao Vice President Pankham Viphavanh. “We have been deeply moved by China’s strong support for our epidemic prevention and control work while their own fight against the virus was still raging.”
China’s help was also praised by Laos Health Minister Bounkong. “China delivered an immediate response to our request for emergency aid when we encountered difficulties tackling the COVID-19 outbreak,” he noted. “Laos and China have always supported each other through thick and thin. As leaders of both sides have said, the two countries are a community with a shared future.”
The anti-epidemic supplies donated by China such as COVID-19 nucleic acid detection kits and personal protective equipment played an important role in helping Laos realize early detection and intervention and prevent secondary transmission of the virus. Based on China’s successful experience and intensive exchange of information between the two countries, Laos adopted a series of containment measures including keeping people at home, temporarily closing schools and entertainment facilities, and banning social gatherings. The joint efforts of China and Laos produced encouraging results. Less than 20 days after the first two confirmed cases were announced, the epidemic outbreak was completely brought under control in Laos. Zero new COVID-19 cases were reported for three months straight, and as of October 2020, the cumulative number of confirmed cases was only 24.
“President Xi suggested as early as 2013 that China-Laos relations rise above bilateral relations in the general sense towards a community of shared future because we share so many common interests,” said Ambassador Jiang Zaidong. “The essential nature and inherent dynamics of the relationship between the two countries have long been clear.” He explained that under conditions of normalized COVID-19 prevention and control, China and Laos have also coordinated efforts to restore normal economic activities. Both sides will continue anti-epidemic cooperation through bilateral and multilateral channels to better protect the safety and health of the two peoples, Jiang added.