Located in Southeast Asia, Laos is the country around seven million people call home. Despite the multitude of people that reside in Laos, the country’s healthcare system does not sufficiently support all those who live there. As a nation that was once colonized by France, Laos was left in a state of dependency towards wealthier countries, as colonization and poverty oftentimes go hand in hand.
Since Laos is one of the poorest countries in Asia, healthcare is a struggle that many have to endure on top of other poor living conditions. Insufficient government funding affects how low spending on healthcare is in Laos. Since public spending towards healthcare is low, people have to rely on out-of-pocket options and external financing rather than having comprehensive healthcare covered by the government. Health insurance in Laos currently only covers 20% of citizens, with less than 15% of the nation’s poor having access to health insurance. With basic necessities like food and shelter existing as one’s biggest priority, healthcare becomes an afterthought for those who cannot afford it.
Recent Advancements in Healthcare
In 2016, domestic allocation for healthcare was 5.9% which is lower than the goal of 9% of general government spending. Despite the lack of funding for Laos’ healthcare system, there have been advancements made in more recent years. According to the World Health Organization, “over the past 10 years, the health of the Laotian population improved significantly,” which has allowed the life expectancy at birth to reach 66 years in 2015.
One effective way to measure the health of a country like Laos is by looking at the mortality and life-expectancy rates. The mortality and life-expectancy rates have decreased and risen respectively due to the reported vaccination coverage. In the 2000s, 82.5 infant deaths per 1000 live births and 5.46 maternal deaths per 1000 live births were reported. Since then, the MMR, or maternal mortality ratio, has seen a reduction by more than 75%, meaning both mother and child death rates have improved. Laos was given praise for their tremendous reduction of maternal mortality rates, as Laos was the “third fastest country…between 2000 and 2013” to achieve the feat.
Laotian Health Policies
Adding policies to Laos’ healthcare system has been beneficial in the past years. A major policy implemented in 2005 called the Law on Health Care allowed for Laos to significantly improve the country’s healthcare system. This policy guarantees that all citizens of Laos be given equitable and quality health care so that everyone can “effectively contribute to the protection and development of the nation.” Financially struggling health patients are awarded free medical care if they have been certified “with the regulations of the relevant organization.” This is a step forward for Laotian healthcare, as those who are struggling the most are able to have healthcare guaranteed and one less financial obstacle to worry about.
Similarly, Laos has also implemented different healthcare programs for different income groups, to increase coverage for a broader cross-section of individuals. The State Authority for Social Security is healthcare used for civil servants, the Social Security Office is for those who are employees of state and private enterprises, the Community-based Health Insurance is for those who are informal-sector workers, and lastly, the Health Equity Funds is for the impoverished and provides maternal and child health services at no cost.
Another major policy that made advancement in Laos is the 2008 National Nutrition Policy. This healthcare policy aims to help with “the reduction of malnutrition among all ethnic groups and decreasing associated…mortality risks.” The most vulnerable groups such as women and children have a better fighting chance at surviving during childbirth. Lao children “are exclusively breastfed from 0-5 months,” which means that establishing the National Nutrition Policy was a crucial development, as babies get their nutrition from mothers and mothers need nutrition to nourish their young ones. By enabling and ensuring a baseline nutrition level be met in Laos, the country can take a step forward in healthcare and continue to promote healthy habits as a whole.