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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.

-Karina Wong

Photo: Pixabay

Health Care Facts about LaosLaos is a small, South Asian country that recently experienced a significant increase in its gross domestic product (GDP). Poverty in Laos plummeted from 33.5 percent to 23.2 percent allowing the country to meet the Millennium Development Goal by reducing its extreme poverty rate by half. However, there is still much work to be done. Around 80 percent of Laotians live on less than $3 a day and face a 10 percent chance of falling into poverty. Knowing that poverty and poor health care often co-exist, the government has made it a goal to strengthen its national health care system by achieving universal health coverage by 2020. Below are nine health care facts about Laos.

9 Health Care Facts About Laos

  1. The Food and Drug Department is the regulatory authority for health care in Laos. The body is responsible for regulating pharmaceuticals and medical devices. The most recent legislation the country passed is the “Law on Drugs and Medical Products No. 07/NA,” in 2012. The law provided stricter guidelines for drugs and medical products. It also creates a classification for medical devices and registration for drugs and other medical products.
  2. Between 1997 and 2015 Laos’ poverty rate declined from 40 percent to 23 percent. The improvement in life expectancy is likely due to the recent improvements of the government on health care in Laos. For example, in 2011 Laos’ National Government Assembly decided to increase the government expenditure for health from 4 percent to 9 percent, likely influencing poverty rates.
  3. Laos has separate health care programs for different income groups. The country has the State Authority for Social Security (SASS) for civil servants, the Social Security Office (SSO) for employees of the state and private companies, the Community-based Health Insurance (CBHI) for informal-sector workers and the Health Equity Funds (HEFs) for the country’s poor.
  4. Laos’ current health insurance only covers 20 percent of the population. The lack of coverage could be due to the large spread of the country’s population outside of its major urban centers. Around 80 percent of Laos’ populace live and work in rural communities. The country’s ministry of health has made efforts to provide more services to people who live outside the main urban centers by decentralizing health care into three administrative levels: the central Ministry of Health, provincial administration levels and a district-level administration.
  5. Wealthy Laotians in need of medical care travel to Thailand for treatment. Despite the increased cost of care in Thailand, Laotians travel internationally because of the better quality of care. Health care in Laos at the local levels suffers from unqualified staff and inadequate infrastructure; additionally, inadequate drug supply is a problem. Due to these issues, Laos depends on international aid. In fact, donors and grant funding finance most of the disease control, investment, training and administrative costs.
  6. Many Laotian citizens believe illness is caused by imbalances of spirit, spiritual possession and weather. Despite Laotian spirituality, knowledge of germs as the root cause of the disease is well understood. Laotian hospitals use antibiotics and other medications when they are available. However, folk medicine is often used as a treatment. For example, herbal medicines and spiritual cures include items, such as a special tree bark, which is believed to grant long life when it is prepared with rice.
  7. Many Laotians remain malnourished. Despite recent economic growth, many children under 5 are chronically malnourished; every fifth child in rural areas is severely stunted. Malnutrition is largely influenced by natural disasters. Laos has a weak infrastructure making it difficult to cope with floods, droughts and insect swarms.
  8. Local drug shops as a primary source of medicinal remedies are actually causing problems. Most of these shops are unregulated and the owners are unlicensed. Misprescription and inadequate and overdosage are common. Venders sell small packets of drugs that often include an antibiotic, vitamins and a fever suppressant. They sell these packets as single dose cures for a wide variety of illnesses.
  9. Laos has a high risk of infectious water-borne and vector-borne diseases. Common waterborne diseases include protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A and typhoid. Vector-borne diseases include dengue fever and malaria. Typically, diarrheal disease outbreaks occur annually during the beginning of the rainy season when the water becomes contaminated by human and animal waste on hillsides. Few homes have squat-pits or water-sealed toilets, causing sanitation and health issues.

 

As it stands, health care in Laos is still underdeveloped. However, the nation’s recent economic growth provides an opportunity to remedy the problem even though a majority of the current health care system is funded by foreign sources. As with all struggles, the desired outcome will take time. With enough cooperation with other countries and non-profit organizations, Laos has a chance to create a sustainable health care system for its citizens. Increasing health education among Laotians will be one key to improving public health in Laos. This can be done through the help of nonprofit organizations and others aiding in efforts to educate countries on sanitation and health.

– Robert Forsyth
Photo: Flickr