Attempts To Boost Tourism, Improve Economy in Laos Could Cause Rise in HIV Cases, U.N. Official Says
Attempts by the government of Laos to boost tourism, adopt a market economy and improve trade ties with neighboring countries could "spark a surge" in HIV transmission, according to a U.N. official, Reuters Health reports. The country, which is one of the world's last communist regimes, is landlocked, affording it a degree of isolation that has kept its HIV prevalence relatively stable. In 2001, Laos' HIV prevalence was 0.04%, significantly lower than the prevalence rates of neighboring Cambodia (2.7%) and Thailand (1.8%), according to a United Nations/World Health Organization report. Laos has few migrant workers and injection drug users, and the government has successfully conducted AIDS education programs to curb the spread of HIV. "Laos has been the quiet achiever at keeping the spread of HIV at bay, but this could all change," Tony Lisle, a UNAIDS official in Southeast Asia, said. The government plans to build roads linking the country with Thailand, Vietnam and China, as well as a domestic road linking the northern and southern parts of the country. The roads will facilitate movement between the country's provinces, which the government had restricted up until the mid-1990s. "More truck drivers and construction workers will come across the border -- single men or men living away from their families -- which will inevitably increase the number of people working in the domestic sex industry," Lisle said, adding that Laos' poverty may lead large numbers of people to travel to China and Thailand in search of work. "Migrant workers may return to the country and spread the disease, especially those who've worked in the sex industry," he said (Petty, Reuters Health, 6/24).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.