Project overview

This project supports the Lao Center of Nutrition (CN), University of Health Sciences (UHS), and Tropical and Public Health Institute (TPHI) to strengthen nutrition research, policy and programming. Capacity building focuses on: (i) conducting topical and technical training for faculty, staff and students; (ii) providing demand-driven research training and research experiences; and (iii) assisting project partners in creating institutional and communication structures that can be sustained into the future. A set of nine synergistic activities are conducted by a team of faculty and staff at Purdue University, Indiana University, Cornell University, and Catholic Relief Services (CRS). The project is made possible through support from USAID as a supplement to a USAID Cooperative Agreement #7200AA18CA00009 (LASER-PULSE) to Purdue University.


In 2021, the ANRCB project established a physical office within the Lao Nutrition Center. The office is staffed by partners from Catholic Relief Services (CRS). CRS staff meet regularly with Nutrition Center staff and the project has provided the Center with targeted training and coaching on four key elements of institutional strengthening: Financial Management, Gender and Social Inclusion (GESI) integration, Project Management, and Staff Onboarding. These efforts are designed to improve operational effectiveness and program quality, which increases the sustainability of all other project programming and provides ongoing value to all nutrition stakeholders who rely on the Center for program-critical activities in Laos. In consultation with CN administration, the project helped develop an Office Management Guide for the Center as well as employee onboarding protocols, including basic training in financial and administrative procedures and nutrition concepts. Our efforts are coordinated with the USAID Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) team at the US Embassy in Vietiane to help mainstream GESI into the Nutrition Center’s five-year strategy.

The project team has worked with the Nutrition Center to co-design project office space to enable research coordination and support learning needs. A previous US government project constructed a building complex that houses the Center. The ANRCB project was allocated six empty rooms on the second floor of the building and worked with the Center and an interior design company to design the space and procure the necessary furniture, equipment, and furnishings to outfit these six rooms. This work transformed the empty space into a state-of-the-art facility for group training, co-working, learning and research. The project worked closely to ensure the space matched the Center’s vision for training and capacity building within the nutrition sector, aligning to the National Nutrition Strategy (NNS) and National Plan of Action for Nutrition (NPAN). On September 16, 2021, the project and the Center held an opening ceremony co-hosted with the US Embassy. The ceremony was attended by Minister of Health Mr. Bounfeng Phoummalaysith and US Ambassador to Laos Mr. Peter Haymond. The project continues to work with the Center to reinforce protocols for proper maintenance and upkeep of the facility.

The project has assisted the Center in developing and delivering a hands-on training program in anthropometry, with a long-term vision of creating a Center of Excellence in Anthropometrics. To increase capacity to deliver essential nutrition research services at the Nutrition Center, with a focus on anthropometrics, the Purdue-led technical team developed dual-language materials to support anthropometric training at all levels. This includes parallel English and Lao versions of training videos along with facilitation guides and evaluation materials. Following beta testing with Center staff, the content was delivered to staff at the Center, the University of Health Sciences, and the Lao Tropical and Public Health Institute. Materials have been disseminated through local partners and the project YouTube channel, and has been expanded to include hands-on training of trainers, participation of provincial level staff (including those working in hospital and clinic environments) and classroom instruction. State-of-the-art measurement equipment was provided by the project along with training to support anthropometric measurement at the Center and in the field.

The project has developed and delivered modules and guidelines for short-term training, mentoring, and capacity development at the Nutrition Center. To strengthen understanding of basic and advanced nutrition concepts, and to promote the scientific research capacity and understanding of staff, university faculty, graduate students and others, Purdue and IU faculty developed a 12-part series of video lessons, consisting of nearly 50 hours of content including narrations in both English and Lao. Materials have been tailored to address general nutrition knowledge as well as issues that are especially relevant to the needs of women and at-risk groups. Attention has been directed at addressing the challenges of nutritional assessment and of nutritional health status across the life course in these populations. Content has been disseminated through local partners and the project YouTube channel. The training modules were delivered to staff members from the Center, UHS and Lao TPHI (in English). Modules (in English and in Lao) are being used in classes with students at UHS and some materials were adapted and delivered in schools in Vientiane in 2023-24. For university and professional audiences, stand-alone video instruction modules and guides (in English and Lao) cover research topics including research design, research methods, research coordination and priority setting. Modules focus on practical activities and strategies for converting knowledge to action. The project continues to work with UHS and Lao TPHI faculty to support uptake and use of modules to support classroom use in degree programs, and to identify training needs/gaps. For example, to identify gaps in current scientific knowledge and strengthen basic understanding of food safety concepts, the Purdue team completed a background review on food safety issues in Laos (in English) to inform the development of a training module, which was developed in English and translated into Lao. This work leverages collaboration with the USAID-supported Innovation Lab for Food Safety and also provides opportunities to engage the private sector through the SUN Business Network around topics related to food safety, food processing and complementary feeding.

The project team worked closely with UHS faculty, staff and leadership to collaboratively review and update nutrition-related curricula at UHS. During project inception, university curriculum review was identified as an area with a strong perceived need for attention as well as stakeholder interest, feasibility of achieving impact within the project life and reasonable likelihood of sustained post-project efforts. The Purdue-led technical team completed a review of higher-education nutrition curricula at UHS and Lao TPHI. This included a review of requirements within nutrition-related degrees on offer and a review of individual course syllabi and suggestions for modification and updating.

A central theme of the project is research capacity, and a substantial amount of project attention has been devoted to developing and delivering modules and guidelines for short-term training, mentoring and capacity development at UHS with the aim of strengthening the scientific research capacity of faculty and graduate students. To promote practical, hands-on learning with respect to planning and conducting research, the project awarded six small research grants (SRGs) to teams of Lao researchers, pairing UHS and Lao TPHI faculty with Purdue and Indiana University faculty and mentors. The goal of this multi-year activity was to help facilitate the research process from conceptualization to proposal development, data collection, data analysis, and writing and public presentation. The Purdue and Indiana University technical team worked with the SRG teams in two research workshops (in Laos) and through extensive virtual and email exchanges to refine research topics and obtain Lao IRB approval for the research. Data collection was completed in late 2022, after which Purdue and IU mentors traveled to Vientiane (in November 2022) to work with SRG teams to support analysis. In March 2023, SRG team leaders visited the US to complete initial drafts of their research projects, which they presented in a research poster symposium at Indiana University. To expose Lao partners to a range of nutrition topics and research styles, Purdue and IU mentors and others conducted a series of monthly research webinars in 2022 and 2023. The webinar series is hosted by the Center of Nutrition, which has continued to organize the monthly event, expanding the list of participants and presenters beyond project partners.

The project has supported the development of Laos' first-ever multi-sectoral, cross-ministry National Nutrition Research Agenda (NNRA) to prioritize research to inform policy and technical decisions. This activity, which upon a previous National Health Research Agenda (NHRA), has included helping to design surveys and listening sessions from a multisectoral group of stakeholders to solicit input into setting a national nutrition research agenda. The project has primarily played a supporting role to partners at Lao TPHI.

In collaboration with the Nutrition Center and the Ministry of Health, the project created the first-ever Lao-English reference resource containing key nutrition terms and concepts. This resource provides information that can foster knowledge, generate interest in nutrition research and policy, and create visibility for the Nutrition Center and its partners. To encourage wider understanding and appreciation for nutrition topics and issues in Lao PDR, and to create greater agreement about the use of important terms and their definitions, the project developed the Lao-English Nutrition Glossary incorporating input and feedback from a wide range of project advisors and stakeholders, including the Lao Ministry of Health. The glossary was approved by the Ministry of Health in August 2023 and 3,500 printed copies of the resource were produced for distribution throughout the country, beginning with the country’s annual Public Health Conference and Nutrition Forum in November 2023.

An important aim of the project has been to increase multi-sectoral cooperation and awareness of nutrition research and concerns in Lao. To support this, the project worked with the Center to develop a quarterly newsletter highlighting nutrition research being conducted in-country, highlighting past research, key resources, and offering ongoing advice, opportunities and support for multi-sectoral cooperation. The newsletter, which is produced in both Lao and English, is distributed via email and social media channels to key stakeholders in government, INGOs, CSO and academia. The newsletter is shared with a wide audience through existing, well-used Facebook (FB) channels, and organizations such as SUN CSA, the Nutrition Center, the National Nutrition Secretariat, and the National Nutrition Committee.