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Laos Makes Progress in Combating HIV and AIDS

Source: Vientiane Times

Laos has made progress towards its 2023 fast-track target for combating HIV and AIDS, with most people living with HIV having entered treatment with antiretroviral drugs.

Authorities currently know the status of people with HIV and they have accessed treatment to reduce the amount of HIV in the bloodstream, a senior official from the National Centre for HIV, AIDs and STI has said.

Currently, some 17,900 people are living with HIV in Laos, and about 1,000 new cases are recorded each year. The committee to combat HIV and AIDS is encouraging people who are at risk of HIV infections to test their blood, and those living with the disease to get antiretroviral treatment to prevent the spread of the virus.

People who want to check their status can get a free blood test, and those already infected can get antiretroviral treatment at local HIV centers and hospitals in Vientiane and the provinces. These facilities offer friendly services with confidentiality.

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The Director General of the Department of Communicable Diseases Control under the Ministry of Health, Dr. Rattanaxay Phetsouvanh, who recently co-chaired a meeting to assess the HIV situation in Vientiane province, said that Laos has been successful in combating HIV and AIDS because most people living with the virus entered treatment with anti-HIV drugs.

However, it is still challenging to encourage some people at risk of HIV infections or living with the virus to access health services.

He said, “With the joint efforts of the Lao government, partners, and civil society organizations, coverage of the services has been extended. The HIV prevention programs are currently available in some target provinces for female entertainment workers and homosexuality.”

People living with HIV make essential contributions to the national and local response, working hand in hand with health services, he added.

One of the factors for Laos’ increased vulnerability to HIV and AIDS is the high HIV prevalence in neighboring countries, the National Centre for HIV and AIDs and STI has reported.

In addition, one of the implications of large infrastructure projects such as dams and high-speed railways and highways, while necessary for economic development, is the risk of increased exposure of the local population to the spread of HIV.

The influx of migrant workers, poverty, and lack of healthcare services can also contribute to increased vulnerability to HIV, particularly among young women.

The Vice President of the Lao Red Cross, Dr Sing Menolath, said increased involvement of communities can pave the way to enhancing responsiveness to community needs.

He said community response is crucial to fill in the resources gap. While the government of Laos has increased its investment in the HIV and AIDS response, the available resources need to be further increased to meet the vast demand.