The Impact of Preparedness in Defying COVID-19 Pandemic Expectations in the Lower Mekong Region: A Case Study

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  • 1 Global Health Program, Faculty of Public Health, Thammasat University, Bangkok, Thailand;
  • 2 Office of the Deputy-Director General, Department of Disease Control, Ministry of Public Health, Bangkok, Thailand;
  • 3 Office of Director-General, Department of Communicable Disease Control, Ministry of Health, Vientiane, Lao PDR;
  • 4 Institute of Research and Education Development (IRED), University of Health Sciences, Vientiane, Lao PDR;
  • 5 Lao-Oxford-Mahosot Hospital-Welcome Trust Research Unit (LOMWRU), Mahosot Hospital, Vientiane, Lao PDR;
  • 6 National Center for Laboratory and Epidemiology (NCLE), Ministry of Health, Vientiane, Laos PDR;
  • 7 National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology (NIHE), Hanoi, Vietnam;
  • 8 University of Health Sciences, Phnom Penh, Cambodia;
  • 9 Department of Mathematics, University of Rajshahi, Rajshahi, Bangladesh;
  • 10 Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia

Dire COVID-19 expectations in the Lower Mekong Region (LMR) can be understood as Cambodia, the Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam have stared down a succession of emerging infectious disease (EID) threats from neighboring China. Predictions that the LMR would be overwhelmed by a coming COVID-19 tsunami were felt well before the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic had been declared. And yet, the LMR, excepting Myanmar, has proved surprisingly resilient in keeping COVID-19 contained to mostly sporadic cases. Cumulative case rates (per one million population) for the LMR, including or excluding Myanmar, from January 1 to October 31 2020, are 1,184 and 237, respectively. More telling are the cumulative rates of COVID-19–attributable deaths for the same period of time, 28 per million with and six without Myanmar. Graphics demonstrate a flattening of pandemic curves in the LMR, minus Myanmar, after managing temporally and spatially isolated spikes in case counts, with negligible follow-on community spread. The comparable success of the LMR in averting pandemic disaster can likely be attributed to years of preparedness investments, triggered by avian influenza A (H5N1). Capacity building initiatives applied to COVID-19 containment included virological (influenza-driven) surveillance, laboratory diagnostics, field epidemiology training, and vaccine preparation. The notable achievement of the LMR in averting COVID-19 disaster through to October 31, 2020 can likely be credited to these preparedness measures.

Author Notes

Address correspondence to Andrew Corwin, Faculty of Public Health, Thammasat University, Rangsit Campus, Khlong 1, Khlong Luang, Pathumthani 12121, Thailand. E-mail: corwinal2e@yahoo.com

Authors’ addresses: Andrew Corwin, Faculty of Public Health, Thammasat University, Bangkok, Thailand, E-mail: corwinal2e@yahoo.com. Tanarak Plipat, Department of Disease Control, Ministry of Public Health, Bangkok, Thailand, E-mail: kepidem@gmail.com. Rattanaxay Phetsouvanh, Department of Communicable Disease Control, Ministry of Health, Vientiane, Lao PDR, E-mail: rattanaxay@gmail.com. Mayfong Mayxay, Institute of Research and Education Development (IRED), University of Health Sciences, Vientiane, Lao PDR, E-mail: mayfong@tropmedres.ac. Phonepadith Xangsayarath, National Center for Laboratory and Epidemiology (NCLE), Ministry of Health, Vientiane, Lao PDR, E-mail: phonepadithxangsayarath@gmail.com. Le Thi Quynh Mai, National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology (NIHE), Hanoi, Vietnam, E-mail: ltqm@nihe.org.vn. Sophal Oum, University of Health Sciences, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, E-mail: sophal_oum@yahoo.com. Md Abdul Kuddus, Department of Mathematics, University of Rajshahi, Rajshahi, Bangladesh, E-mail: mdabdul.kuddus@my.jcu.edu.au.

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