Laos successful keeping HIV at bay
AIDS rare despite epidemic in neighboring nations
June 14, 1997
Web posted at: 2:32 p.m. EDT (1832 GMT)
From Correspondent Tom Mintier
VIENTIANE, Laos (CNN) -- Laos is surrounded by neighbors
where the level of HIV infection has reached epidemic
Yet, in 1996, there were but 131 confirmed cases of HIV
infection here. There were only 17 AIDS-related deaths.
What has made the difference? The Laotian government took a
proactive, rather than reactive, approach to fighting HIV and
Long before the first case was reported, the government
formed a committee to deal with the potential HIV epidemic. A
public awareness and prevention campaign was launched before
HIV had spread deeply into the population.
"I think policy makers and planners and decision makers at
the highest levels of government have taken the issue very
seriously," said Tony Lisle, director of the United Nations'
AIDS program. "I think, appropriately, they see the need to
upgrade their response."
The success of the Laotian HIV education effort is
particularly striking given the fact that about half the
population is illiterate. The country is also among the
world's poorest, with nearly half the population subsisting
on an annual income less than U.S.$100.
But while the prevention effort has so far helped protect the
Laotian population, health officials are now concerned about
what the recent easing of travel restrictions might hold for
There are more outsiders in Laos now. Workers from Vietnam,
truck drivers from Cambodia and tourists from Thailand are
entering the country. And all three of those surrounding
countries have HIV infection rates significantly higher than
the rate in Laos.
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