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HIV Prevention Failing In Rural Communities

Source: Vientiane Times

Rural people lack information about the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections (STI), which is one of the reasons for continuing HIV infection in Laos.

This was one of the messages at a meeting of Ministry of Health officials and development partners held on Wednesday to discuss building capacity for the prevention of HIV/AIDS/STI and overall plans for the year ahead.

The National Committee for the Control of AIDS Annual Meeting was led by Minister of Health Dr Bounfeng Phoummalaysith and the Director of the National Centre for HIV/AIDS and STI, Dr Phouthone Southalack.

“It is still challenging to encourage people at risk of HIV infection or living with the virus to access health services. They are normally unable to get help, while HIV prevention campaigns are still lacking in remote areas,” Dr Phouthone said.

For several years, health officials have been trying to improve access to health services by people living with HIV and to improve the information system so that more people are able to learn about ways to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS/STI, he added.

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Unfortunately, many communities still do not have information about the control and prevention of HIV and are unable to get the drugs needed for AIDS treatment because they are poorly informed about health issues that are relevant to HIV, Dr Phouthone said.

The National Centre for HIV/AIDS and STI is working to improve health service systems for communities in remote areas in addition to training health officials so that everyone has access to good quality treatment, he added.

Meeting participants shared ideas about ways to lower the HIV infection rate and to help people at risk of infection and living with HIV to access more health services.

The overarching goal of the Centre’s work is to bring an end to HIV in Laos by 2030.

Laos has low HIV prevalence but some groups of people are at higher risk, particularly men who have sex with men and the transgender population.

Drug use also contributes to the spread of HIV and there is increasing availability of illicit drugs that can be injected, which leads to the risk of infection through contaminated needles.

In 2020, there were 1,579 people known to be living with HIV in Laos, with the number is continuing to rise. Last year, 1,639 people were recorded as living with HIV.

From 1990 to the end of September 2019, a total of 11,172 HIV cases were recorded. More than 5,600 people developed AIDS and 100 people died from HIV-related causes.

The main goals of the HIV prevention programme are that 95 percent of the people living with HIV are aware they have the virus, 95 percent of people who are diagnosed with HIV receive sustained anti-retroviral therapy, and 95 percent of people receiving anti-retroviral therapy are shown to have viral load suppression.