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International News

Can Laos Keep AIDS at Bay?

November 1, 2002

Though surrounded by some of the highest HIV infection rates in the world, land-locked Laos has largely escaped the epidemic. According to UN data, about 1,500 people, or 0.05 percent of the population, were living with HIV at the end of 2001. About 1 percent of the women in Laos' nascent sex industry are HIV-positive -- much lower than equivalent figures in neighboring countries. How has Laos been so successful at keeping AIDS at bay?

Laos authorities, with the help of international agencies, have used imaginative methods -- from puppet shows to elephants draped in condom ads -- to take the prevention method to even the remotest villages. Laos has virtually no recorded use of intravenous drugs. And the nation has not seen the large-scale migration that has caused social dislocation in other parts of East Asia.

But as Laos opens up to the outside world, there is growing concern that its record as one of Asia's success stories could change. Thanks to new roads, it will soon be possible, for the first time, to drive the length of the country on a single highway. The roads aim to attract tourism and investment, but UNESCO HIV/AIDS coordinator David Feingold said the influx of construction workers from China and Thailand, along with prostitution and intravenous drug use, could overwhelm the country. The international lending agencies funding the roads have agreed to provide HIV/AIDS education to the workers who build the roads and the truckers who will drive them.

Dr. Chansy Phimphachanh, who heads the National Council for Control of AIDS, is worried. "We really have to prepare our communities to be HIV-resistant," she said. Even so, she understands that continued isolation is not an option for Laos. "For the development of the country, we mustn't be selfish. For the wealth of the country, we have to open ourselves up," she said.

Back to other CDC news for November 1, 2002

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Adapted from:
BBC News
10.30.02; Alice Donald

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
Laos and HIV/AIDS