Laos' National Anti-HIV/AIDS Commission recently released a new report summarizing the HIV/AIDS situation in the country. The report says from 1990 to the end of 2008, authorities were able to perform a random voluntary screening of 175,000 people across the country, which is considered a relatively small number when compared to the total population of almost six million.
Screening results found 2,858 infected people, with 1,837 having full-blown AIDS, leading to 873 deaths so far. The screening also found a disproportionate increase in the number of female infections. Of the 900 patients currently receiving treatment and drugs from the National Anti-HIV/AIDS Center, 43% are women, many of whom became infected after having sex with husbands or boyfriends who return home from working illegally in Thailand. A large number of HIV/AIDS-infected Lao women comprises of those who, driven by poverty, went to work in the sex industry in neighboring countries, particularly Thailand.
Authorities say a major factor contributing to the increase in HIV/AIDS infections in Laos is its central location in the Greater Mekong Sub-region, which links it to all its GMS neighbors. That, combined with Laos pursuing the policy of opening its door to trade, foreign investment and tourism, makes it difficult for Lao authorities to effectively stifle or control the spread of the disease.
Acknowledging the predicament, Laos' Deputy Minister of Health, Dr. Bounkouang Phichit, says to effectively address this problem requires not only preventive measures, but also treatment as well as seeking out high risk groups and providing them appropriate services. Education, advertisement and dissemination of information are also important to raise awareness, to make people in all walks of life and strata of the society understand the danger of the disease, and know how to prevent themselves from getting infection.
The current HIV/AIDS situation in Laos led the country's National Anti-HIV/AIDS Center to estimate that, in reality, there are more than 10,000 infected people. And another important contributing factor, besides all those mentioned above, is the lack of government budget to fund the efforts to effectively address the problem.
Listen to Songrit's report for details in Lao.