NEWS | Nov. 22, 2019

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Partners to Battle Malnutrition in Laos

By Ana Allen

VIENTIANE, Laos -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has completed phase one and two construction of the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), officially turning over major portions of the $4.9 million dollar medical and educational facility to Lao Ministry of Health leads in a ribbon cutting ceremony today.

The five-acre multi-purpose campus, includes collaboration with USACE, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), U.S. Agency for International Development, the Oregon Health and Science University, as well as with the Lao Ministry of Health, who maintains operation and maintenance of the facility. This is the largest Humanitarian Assistance construction joint effort funded by U.S. INDOPACOM.

"Health sector cooperation is a key pillar of the U.S.-Laos bilateral relationship," said Rear Admiral Louis Tripoli, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Surgeon. "The work we have done together demonstrates our continued commitment to further developing ties with our partners and allies here and throughout the region."

Pacific Ocean Division Commanding General, Brig. Gen. Thomas Tickner, is the senior Army officer overseeing USACE efforts in the pacific region, and expressed praise for the collaboration. "Today we celebrate unified partnership towards a common good. This immense culmination of effort represents friendship, collaboration and commitment in support of prosperity for the people of Lao, and a lasting partnership that will stand the test of time. A special thanks to the Lao Ministry of Health for their warm welcome of U.S. partners so that the completion of this vital facility could occur. This sprawling campus now stands as a symbol for health and wellbeing, and is another shining example of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' world-renowned expertise, quality and proven experience in "building strong" across the Pacific."

The 32,507 square foot facility is aimed at addressing malnutrition, as part of Lao's National Food Security Program.

To date, NIN major components include five classrooms, two clinical simulation rooms, a lecture hall, five inpatient and six outpatient clinical assessment and intervention areas, as well as a clinical laboratory. Phase three will include construction of dormitories, which will be complete later next year.

It also comes equipped with a full Lao-style kitchen and café to train on healthy food preparation and storage methods, as well as a greenhouse and garden areas to promote garden-to-table sustainable agriculture methods, in addition to other outdoor areas to instruct on how to properly cultivate livestock.

"The handover of the National Institute of Nutrition building today is very significant event. The NIN building is a symbol of a good collaboration between the two countries, the U.S. and Lao P.D.R in the framework of nutrition. Importantly, NIN will address the needs of the health sector of our country to fighting against malnutrition of the Lao people," said Dr. Chandavone Phoxay, center director, Nutrition Centre, Ministry of Health.

Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), a teaching hospital and research center in Portland, is attached to the project through a statement of intent, which details OHSU support through nutrition-related training of Lao communities, future leaders, as well as local researchers in the nutrition field. OHSU contribution also includes continuum research and development of preventative measures and treatments. Partnership outcomes will help inform key government decision-makers of methods to improve the nutritional status of infants, children and young women throughout the country.

According to the statement, OHSU collaboration may also include provision of resources for the development of an operating model and a programmatic strategic plan, among other steps.

"Consuming well-balanced, nutrient-rich diets is key to addressing the burdens of malnutrition, which impact physical and cognitive growth at one end of the spectrum and lead to chronic diseases associated with obesity on the other end," said Diane Stadler, Ph.D., R.D., who directs the OHSU School of Medicine Graduate Program in Human Nutrition and is leading OHSU efforts to expand clinical nutrition training for Lao health professionals with Joanna Cummings, M.S., R.D., C.N.S.C.. "OHSU looks forward to helping advance the health and well-being of the Lao people by improving food security and dietary diversity, as the success of future generations depends on it."

Tickner provided his prospective on USACE support and nation-to-nation collaborations. "NIN has become our number one flagship humanitarian assistance project, which speaks to our treasured friendship with the people of Lao. This multi-year effort allows us to contribute to the prosperity and health for all in Lao by integrating our capabilities and delivering solutions that enhance quality of life. We look forward to wrapping up the final phase of construction by springtime 2020, yet continuing collaboration and partnership well into the future," Tickner said.

NIN is one of several Lao-based projects that fall within the U.S. Overseas Humanitarian Disaster Assistance and Civic Aid appropriation, to include construction of schools, clinics, water wells and other structures. "We are happy to have constructed 47 projects since 2006 valued at more than USD 21.5 million across the Department of Defense. We are looking forward to further cooperation on more projects in the future," said Evan Ting, POD chief of International Cooperation.

Currently, USACE is assisting the Lao government Ministry of Energy and Mines to enhance their national dam safety program by providing subject matter experts to conduct dam inspections as part of an international team of experts working throughout the country.

Recent collaboration also include U.S.-Lao engagements as part of the Mekong-Mississippi River Commission, a sister-river partnership program run by USACE under the U.S. State Department, which brings Mekong River countries and Mississippi River states together for information exchanges, lessons learned and partnership building.

"Lao has always been a major intellectual contributor during past information exchanges with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Lao engineers and scientists have partnered and exchanged best practices with us and we've always learned from them just as equally as I believe they've learned from us. It has been an incredible privilege to experience their friendship, and I look forward to deepening mutual collaboration and exploring additional ways in which we can provide meaningful support," Tickner said.

Beyond Laos, USACE is partnering with nations throughout the Indo-Pacific to support various humanitarian assistance construction program projects, ranging from birthing centers, labs, nutrition centers and schools. There are currently 28 projects in various stages of, either acquisition, or design construction in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Mongolia, Vietnam, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.