Map of Laos showing Vientiane (home to LOMWRU), the three fever surveillance provincial hospitals (yellow) and the two malaria study sites (green)

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos) has a population of nearly 7 million people, of which the majority are financially poor rural farmers: 65% of the population live in rural areas and 34% of the country’s population live on less than 1.25 USD/day. Indicators of health in Laos are low, with life expectancy of 68 years, and a high infant mortality rate of 68/1,000 live births and a high maternal mortality rate of 357/100,000 live births.

The Lao-Oxford-Mahosot Hospital-Wellcome Trust Research Unit (LOMWRU) aims, through research and capacity building, to contribute to improving the health of people in Laos and the many similar environments across Asia.

LOMWRU is embedded within the Microbiology Laboratory of Mahosot Hospital, with conventional bacteriology, molecular and serology laboratories and the first BSL3 laboratory in Laos for rickettsial, Mycobacterium spp., B. pseudomallei and viral culture.

LOMWRU supports the infectious disease diagnostic service of Mahosot Hospital and assists other Lao hospitals and in the investigation of epidemics. We have close links with Luang Nam Tha (NW Laos), Xieng Khouang (NE Laos) and Salavan (S Laos) Provincial Hospitals, conducting fever surveillance, with the Centre for Malariology, Parasitology and Entomology for malaria research in southern Laos, and with the Food and Drug Department for medicine quality. We provide an infectious disease consultation service at Mahosot Hospital through board and ward rounds and build laboratory, clinical and research capacity. We house the office of the Antimalarial Quality Scientific group of WWARN.

At LOMWRU, we investigate the clinical epidemiology of infectious diseases, thiamin deficiency and medicine quality - through collaborative clinical research to help guide the health policy. We work to answer key questions important for public health, such as determining the causes of non-malarial fevers, how these diseases can be diagnosed accurately and inexpensively, and what are the locally appropriate optimum treatments. This information is vital for individual patient care and in facilitating evidence-based health policy change.

Mahosot Hospital is a 365 bed, primary-tertiary hospital of the Ministry of Health, specialising in internal medicine. Mahosot Hospital’s Microbiology Laboratory, originally built in the 1920s, was renovated in 2002 through the generosity of Mr Peter Sykes. The laboratory in which LOMWRU is embedded is the routine microbiology laboratory for the hospital and has facilities for examination and culture of blood, stool, pus, urine and cerebrospinal fluid and rickettsial, leptospiral and viral serology, rickettsial and cerebrospinal fluid bacterial and viral pathogen PCR and rickettsial culture and viral culture. The laboratory participates in the NEQAS (UK) quality assurance scheme.

In 2008 the Infectious Disease Centre was opened. This new building, funded by the Wellcome Trust, consists of a 30-bed Adult Infectious Disease Ward on the ground floor, including a high dependency unit. The upper floor contains, serology, molecular medicine laboratories and the Biosecurity Level 3 Laboratory. In 2011 an extension to the 1920s Microbiology Laboratory was finished. This two-story extension, funded by the University of Oxford, contains new BSL2 microbiology laboratories.

In addition to core funding from the Wellcome Trust, a British medical charity, we have had grants over the last five years from the European Union, US-CDC, US Navy Medical Research Centre, WHO, French Government, Institut Pasteur-Paris, Li Ka Shing Foundation, the Joint Inter-Agency Task Force and FIND. We have substantial assistance in kind from the UMR_D 190, Emergence des Pathologies Virales (Aix-Marseille University-Institut de Recherche pour le Développement -Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Santé Publique). An increasing number of national and international collaborative groups, such as Institut Pasteur-Laos and the Centre d’Infectiologie Christophe Mérieux work in Laos. We have collaborative research projects with them and we liaise closely to ensure that our work is complementary.

The Microbiology Laboratory and Infectious Disease Centre upper floor have 53 staff who contribute to research, 15 are Lao Government and 38 project staff; 90% of staff are Lao nationals. We build laboratory, clinical and research capacity and support MSc and PhD research training programs.

Microbiology Laboratory and Infectious Disease Centre Staff