ANRCB Project Team Visit to LaosNyssa Lilovich
In November 2022, representatives from three US-based universities visited Vientiane, Laos in support of the Applied Nutrition Research Capacity Building (ANRCB) project in Lao PDR, funded by USAID via the LASER PULSE program. It was the first team visit since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Led by Purdue University’s College of Agriculture and College of Health and Human Sciences in collaboration with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Indiana University, this four-year project is addressing malnutrition challenges in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic by helping to strengthen research capabilities at key institutions. The team is working closely with the Lao Ministry of Health (MOH) to bolster research capacity in various areas related to food security and human nutrition.
The nine US-based team members visiting Laos for the week-long series of training activities and research collaborations included Gerald Shively, Nilupa Gunaratna, Susmita Ghosh, Leah Thompson and Patricia Sipes (Purdue University); Ramya Ambikapathi (Cornell University); and Kate Eddens, Carmen Tekwe and Roger Zoh (Indiana University).
The visit included meetings with project partners at the Center for Nutrition (CN), the University of Health Sciences (UHS) and the Lao Tropical and Public Health Institute (Lao TPHI). The team also met with USAID mission staff and representatives of the Lao government. The team was joined by Rob Green (CRS) at the Ministry of Health (MOH) where they met with the MOH Cabinet (Chanthanom Manithip, Director; Sony Sisomvang, Vice Director for International Cooperation) and several Department of Health and Hygiene Promotion (DHHP) staff members (Phonepaseuth Ounnaphom, Director; Seliphonexay Phetsouvanh, NGO Relations Liaison). Discussions focused on the range and scope of ANRCB research and training activities being carried out in partnership with the CN, UHS and Lao TPHI under the terms of the MOU. Among many other activities, these include six research projects being led by Lao partners, a series of eight practical training modules, and compilation of the country’s first bilingual Lao-English nutrition dictionary.
At the Center for Nutrition (CN) Phonesavanh Keonakone (CN Director) provided a welcome and a tour of the facilities and offices. During the team’s visit to the US Embassy, where the delegation was joined by Kelley Khamphouxay, Josh Poole and Ratthiphone Oula (CRS), a meeting was led by USAID Country Representative Michael Ronning and facilitated by Cullen Hughes (Director, Office of Economic Growth, Education and Energy) and Viladeth Souksavatdm (Project Manager). Also in attendance was Banthida Komphasouk (Development Assistance Specialist for Health). Gerald Shively provided a brief overview of the aims and scope of the ANRCB project, overall capacity building objectives, project achievements to-date, and plans for the team’s visit and interactions with local partners.
During the week, between training sessions at the Center for Nutrition, the team split up. One group visited UHS while others visited Nongbone High School, one of several sites where data are being collected on adolescent nutrition and food consumption. At UHS, team members met with Vanpanom Sychareun (Dean of the Faculty of Public Health), Khamtim Xamontoy (Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Public Health), Sengphachanh Phimmavong (Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Public Health), Souksamone Thongmixay (Lecturer) and Vathasan Somphet (Lecturer) to discuss work related to a review of the UHS nutrition-related curriculum to update materials, methods, and topics. This curriculum review is one of nine comprehensive ANRCB project activities developed collaboratively with Lao partners and stakeholders, via an extensive project inception and planning stage. In 2023, UHS will organize a faculty workshop to identify priority gaps in the MPH Nutrition curriculum. The ultimate goal is to prioritize training modules for further development by the project to infuse more “hands-on” learning in the UHS program.
“USAID has made a strong commitment to helping the Lao government strengthen research capacity and there are numerous areas for attention that leverage Purdue’s expertise, ranging from improving nutritional awareness and education to enhancing food safety,” said Gerald Shively, associate dean in Purdue’s College of Agriculture and director of International Programs in Agriculture. “In order to ensure the continued success of the project in addressing key challenges, we will be working closely with the USAID, the Lao government, and other partners and stakeholders to identify priorities for action.”