Mekong Institute (MI) organized an inception workshop in Lao PDR on September 4 for the New Zealand Aid Programme-supported PROSAFE project. Held at the Lao Plaza Hotel Vientiane, the workshop gathered 23 participants from key government agencies, including the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Ministry of Industry and Commerce, Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the National University of Laos.
The inception workshop included an introduction to the MI PROSAFE project, accomplishments from the first phase of the food safety project, and a sharing of priority areas and needs related to safe food promotion. MI then called on Lao PDR’s agencies to review the identified priorities as well as the target action plans and planned activities.
In her welcome remarks, Ms. Maria Theresa Medialdia, MI Agriculture Development and Commercialization (ADC) Director, explained that “according to the World Health Organization, about 600 million foodborne illnesses were reported in 2017 globally and about 420,000 deaths per year at an estimated cost of 5.5 million years of healthy life lost.” She shared that we tend to take food safety for granted and it is time to take action.
The workshop is part of a series of activities for the food safety stakeholder network established under the PROSAFE Project. Other proposed activities are the national knowledge sharing forum and group action plans. The workshop hopes to form a common national level understanding of expected outputs and outcomes of the PROSAFE project.
Dr. Sivong Sengaloundeth, Deputy Director General of Lao PDR’s Food and Drug Department and co-chair of the inception workshop, recalled several food safety incidents related to hepatitis A in several provinces in Lao PDR and the lack of food-related incidents statistics in the country. He also shared how a consolidated effort could minimize food safety risks during disaster such as the recent dam collapse in Attapeu Province. Dr. Sengaloundeth ended his remarks hoping that the support like the ones offered under the PROSAFE Project can further improve Lao PDR’s capacity to better manage current and emerging food safety issues for improved human, animal, and plant health and life.
Participants discussed and provided feedback on various food safety issues and improvements especially on strengthening enforcement and policy implementation, raising consumer awareness of their rights to safe food, as well as fostering stronger regional cooperation.
Ms. Medialdia concluded the workshop by thanking the active participation of attendees and highlighting key activities proposed, such as establishing pilot safe food markets; developing information, education, and communication materials; and organizing a food safety day in Lao PDR. She said that MI will communicate regularly with concerned agencies to operationalize the key ideas that came out of the inception workshop.