Many countries throughout Southeast Asia face increased health risks due to the propagation of COVID-19. Healthcare policy and infrastructure in Laos has been developing over the past few decades. Laos is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world with more than 49 ethnic groups. It includes variegated customs, beliefs and health-related behaviors. The government’s response to health issues in the past 20 years has greatly improved child mortality, maternal mortality and nutrition throughout the country. These five facts about health policy evolution in Laos are integral to understanding the country’s past infrastructure development and how it is currently responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
5 Facts About Health Policy Evolution in Laos
- The National Commission for Mothers and Children (NCMC) was established as a government agency in Laos during 1999. NCMC works with local groups in Laos to proactively combat violence against women and children. The agency’s work also includes researching the current state of the healthcare system and proposing policies towards gender equality.
- The National Growth and Poverty Eradication Strategy (NGPES) is the foundation for national poverty reduction and healthcare sector growth. Implemented in 2004, this policy provides background for enabling growth in sectors like education, infrastructure and agriculture. As Laos continues on its course to exit the Least Developed Country status, the government focuses on solving both larger scale and local issues to eradicate poverty. Between 1997 and 2015, due in part to the NGPES, Laos’ poverty rate declined from 40% to 23%.
- The Laos Law on Health Care established a framework for organizing, managing and developing healthcare in Laos. The law, passed in 2005, aims to provide equitable healthcare services to all communities. The legislation also focused on developing modern healthcare services over the long-term to protect and develop the nation. Outlining both public and private healthcare services, the 2005 Law on Health Care is crucial in the country’s development. The public option only covers around 20% of the current population. However, the Ministry of Health in Laos hopes to have universal coverage by 2025.
- The National Nutrition Policy (2008) has the general objective of reducing malnutrition levels throughout the country. It emphasizes nutrition as a key factor of concern in the National Growth and Poverty Eradication Strategy. Though the policy targets all citizens of Laos, the policy specifically focuses on malnourished citizens and the Non-Lao Tai ethnic group. Through principles of decentralization, sustainability and nutrition surveillance, the policy has helped reduce stunting from 40% of the population in 2006 to 28% in 2020.
- Though the country’s healthcare system is rapidly developing, the coronavirus pandemic posed a great threat to the safety of the populace. Securing funding from the World Bank to respond to the pandemic, Laos sought to target emergency preparedness pursuits such as contact tracing and infection prevention. The country was able to declare itself free of the virus in early June 2020 after 59 days with no new cases and all remaining cases recovered. The Laos government built a strong infrastructure, consequently, even remote locations have access to it.
At all levels, governments around the world are developing policies to improve healthcare in their countries. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted glaring issues in healthcare infrastructure worldwide. Additionally, Laos is a prime example of a country taking concrete steps to respond to the issue.
– Pratik Koppikar