Baltimore Sun Examines Growing AIDS Epidemic in Muang Xai, Laos
The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday examined the growing threat of HIV/AIDS in Muang Xai, Laos, which the United Nations has identified as one of several potential AIDS "hotspots" (Hoenig, Baltimore Sun, 4/14). Laos, 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 and Thailand, where the HIV prevalence rates were 2.7% and 1.8%, respectively, according to a U.N./World Health Organization report (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/26/03). However, the Asian Development Bank and its member nations plan to build roads linking Laos with Thailand, Vietnam and China, as well as a domestic road linking the northern and southern parts of the country. The routes will intersect in Muang Xai, bringing "large numbers of men from areas with some of the world's worst" HIV prevalence rates, according to the Sun. The Muang Xai-area hill tribes, which are poor and isolated, are especially vulnerable because many young women turn to commercial sex work to make money, the health infrastructure is poor and AIDS awareness is low, the Sun reports. Although the Laotian government has been "given high marks" for its willingness to confront the disease, AIDS education campaigns are difficult to conduct because the country has a 20% literacy rate and few mass media outlets, the Sun reports. "There is the potential for some of these [hill tribe] groups to be both physically and culturally wiped out, because you are dealing with small populations," David Feingold, an expert on hill tribes, human trafficking and HIV/AIDS at United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's Bangkok office, said (Baltimore Sun, 4/14).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.